Committed: An Interview With Suzanne Scanlon

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From Psychology Today: “Suzanne Scanlon’s Committed: On Meaning and Madwomen—A Memoir, published today by Vintage Books, examines how three generations have tried to diagnose and treat what each has called madness. The book revisits a key chapter in American psychiatry—the start of the widespread prescribing of SSRIs and second-generation antipsychotics in the 1980s and 90s—through the lens of Scanlon’s personal experience.

Chris Lane: For several years, if we can begin with that difficult time, you lived in the New York State Psychiatric Institute on Manhattan’s Upper West Side—an institute central to the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] story and the manual’s large-scale expansion at the time. What for you is most important that readers grasp from your time there?

Suzanne Scanlon: I want readers to understand that I had a wildly inappropriate and problematic treatment—that recovery from treatment was as difficult as recovery from my so-called illness. There were doctors who helped me understand my suffering and validated my enormous grief. At the same time, hospitalization taught me that I was seriously ill—that there was something almost irreparably wrong with me. I hope to show in the book that there are many ways to make sense of suffering, grief, and loss. Needing to recover from one’s treatment should not be part of the difficulty.

. . . I also want to rethink mental illness as a static position—the notion that it is a ‘core’ part of a person, perhaps their  essence. I’d reframe it as ‘something you are going through’ rather than ‘this is who you are.’ That, say, you act this way because you ‘are’ borderline. It’s obviously much more complicated than that, tied to family, trauma, neglect, norms, and dysfunction. Let’s talk about the crisis, acute or chronic, but within that larger context.”

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