Anthology Explores the Many Meanings of Mad Studies
review by Tom Sandborn
The Routledge International Handbook of Mad Studies
Peter Beresford and Jasna Russo, editors
Routledge Taylor& Francis Group London and New York 2022
$324.00 hardcover, $68.95 Kindle 391pp.
What does it mean to be “mad”? The most orthodox answer invokes medical
model psychiatry, which argues the mad are afflicted with a brain
disease that impairs their cognitive functioning and makes their
perceptions and behaviours pathological.
The go-to clinical response is a dizzying and often toxic buffet of psychotropic drugs, which are claimed to bear
the same relationship to “mental illness” as insulin does to diabetes.
Sometimes other treatment modalities are employed but the powerful products of Big Pharma are too often the only “help” that is offered. And that questionable “help” is often imposed. The allegedly mad are often locked up, electro-shocked and medicated against their will and without informed consent.
everyone is convinced that this model is accurate or that any imposed
therapy can be helpful. Rogue psychiatrists like Thomas Szasz and R.D.
Laing, courageous journalists like Robert Whitaker, feminist scholars
like Vancouver’s Dorothy Smith and activist authors like Bonnie Burstow
have all made persuasive arguments against orthodox psychiatry and for more attention to the lived experience of psychiatric survivors.
The Routledge International Handbook of Mad Studies is
a collection of articles written from many different perspectives, all
largely sharing a skeptical and critical attitude toward mainstream
medical model psychiatry. The editors have sought out Mad Studies
academics and grass roots mental patient’s rights activists, survivors and other activists. They include voices from the global south, including powerful essays from India, Latin America and Africa.
This book represents an important, if uneven achievement. While some of the essays included are
predictably marred by their impenetrable academic jargon, others are
fierce, lucid and accessible. Local Vancouver author, activist and
self-described “escaped lunatic” Irit Shimrat’s “Reflections on
Survivor Knowledge and Mad Studies” is a strong essay totally
un-besmirched by jargon and full of wit and justifiable outrage. ( Full
disclosure. Shimrat is a friend and colleague of mine.)
In Canada, to our national shame, around
15,000 electroshock treatments, often coerced, are performed every
year. And while Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Convention
on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, (https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-rights-persons-disabilities )this
country has failed to implement one of its most important clauses , the
one that calls for an end to involuntary psychiatric confinement and
drugging. For more on this compelling human rights issue, consult the
Mad in Canada website at https://madincanada.org/ .
This is an important book. Highly recommended.
Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. Over the years, he has been
associated with alternatives to medical model psychiatry like the
Mental Patients’ Association, the Radical Therapy Collective and the
Vancouver Emotional Emergency Centre. He welcomes your feedback and
story tips at firstname.lastname@example.org