Here are some reviews of some books related to schizophrenia.

Surviving Schizophrenia: A Manual for Families, Consumers, and Providers (4th Edition)
Author: E. Fuller Torrey
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN: 0060959193

Dr. Torrey writes that schizophrenia is a brain disease, requiring treatment and medication. Evidence points to genetic and biological factors as causes, not the way a person is raised. He advises families to seek treatment for their loved one, even demand treatment if necessary. He suggests creation of an environment to facilitate recovery, discusses many of the issues facing a person with the disease, and suggests coping mechanisms for sufferers and their families. He has criticism for the government's apathy regarding poor hospital and outpatient care facilities, irresponsible deinstitutionalization policies and other problems faced by people who have schizophrenia and their families. At the back of the book he includes lists of many organizations, which offer schizophrenia help, information and support.

The book is well written by a knowledgeable professional who also understands what families deal with when they learn a loved one has schizophrenia, as he sister has it. It's a good first read for anyone interested in the subject, including those who have schizophrenia, and is especially helpful for their loved ones. Some call it the "Schizophrenia Bible," and while that may be something of an overstatement it has proved over the years to be of invaluable help to a great many people.

I Am Not Sick I Don't Need Help!
Author: Xavier Amador PhD with Anna-Lisa Johanson
Publisher: VidaPress
ISBN: 0-9677189-0-2

It's not unusual for the loved ones of someone recently diagnosed with schizophrenia to be told repeatedly by mental health workers never to listen to him when he speaks delusionally, to instead say something along the lines of "that's just your illness talking." Here is their loved one, going through something which he is entirely alone with, feeling about as isolated as a human being can feel, and they are being told to just cut him off if he tried to talk about it. Something is wrong with that picture.

That's why this book is important. It not only validates the family's instinctual desire to listen and help, it suggests ways to go about listening and talking to someone in the grip of delusions. It suggests that people with schizophrenia or another mental illness be treated with the same respect as anyone else, that what they are going through be taken seriously, that they be talked to without condescension, in other words that they be allowed to communicate with people who care and that people communicate with them with respect for what they have to say. This sounds so basic, and yet it's not the prevailing attitude among a lot of mental health professionals.

The book points out that what people call "denial" isn't denial at all, it's a symptom of the illness itself, which is why intervention and other communication methods used with people who really are in denial (alcoholics for example) don't work when trying to get someone to accept help. It suggests ways to discuss getting help which allow the ill person to maintain his/her dignity and ultimately make his/her own decision. And although much of it is about helping someone realize they could use some help, the suggestions can also apply to everyday conversations.

This book (most of it anyway) is a little gem and well worth reading.

The Quiet Room
Author: Lori Schiller & Amanda Bennett
Publisher: Warner Books
ISBN: 0-446-67133-9

This is the story of Lori Schiller's odyssey through schizoaffective disorder, from her first symptoms in her late teens through her finding the right meds and the hope of a good life in her early thirties. She describes graphically her experiences of psychosis, her several hospitalizations, various treatments, other adventures along the way, and at last the light at the end of the tunnel. The book also includes several short chapters by various people who were there and effected by Lori's illness, her parents, brothers, friends, and psychiatrist.

But it is primarily Lori's telling of her own story, and it provides a valuable peek into what it must be like, the voices criticizing constantly and demanding absolute obedience, the conviction that people are going to kill her, the indescribable fear, and the absolute certainty that all of it is true. It's a good read for anyone, but especially anyone wanting to know more about schizophrenia.

Living with Schizophrenia
Author: Stuart Emmons, Craig Geiser, Kalman J. Kaplan PhD, Martin Harrow PhD
Publisher: Accelerated Development
ISBN: 1-56032-556-9

Although there are four authors listed for this book, the first two are the real authors, and both have schizophrenia. They tell of their experiences in their own words, and also display their artistic work, Mr. Emmons is a poet and Mr. Geiser is an artist. The two psychologists intersperse short comments here and there, but not very informative ones, their main function appears to be as editors.

The two men who have schizophrenia provide an inside view of what they have been through, their suffering and their triumphs. They are not great literature, especially in the case of Mr. Geiser, who is after all an artist, not a writer. The value in this book lies in the stories, both men tell about their delusions and hallucinations in detail, as well as their treatments, their families and other relationships and their lives in general. Their stories can be frightening and touching, and give a glimpse of what it has been like for these two people to have lived with schizophrenia for many years. Worth reading.

Imagining Robert
Author: Jay Neugeboren
Publisher: William Morrow & Company, Inc.
ISBN: 0-688-14968-5

The author is a successful writer of fiction and nonfiction, and this book is the life story of his younger brother Robert, as seen through the eyes of his big brother. Robert had his first breakdown at 19 in 1962, has been diagnosed as schizophrenia, bipolar, and everything in between, and has spent his adult life in and out of hospitals, group homes, jails, and seedy hotels, on and off many meds. He has been abandoned by his mentally ill but untreated mother, his weak father, and for a time even by his brother.

The author tells the story of their childhood, and how his brother's illness later effected the family and how the family effected his brother's illness. And he describes his own reactions to it in detail, the pain and feelings of loss, the helplessness, and the love. He is tormented by the lack of consistent treatment, of kindness, and of recognition of the basic humanity of his brother and all the others who must depend on the mental health system. There is no happy ending here, only the story of a sad and seemingly unending journey.

It is the story of the people we see on the streets, dressed oddly and talking to themselves, so alone. It reminds us that they have lives, inner lives as well as outward, that they had families and went to school and played and cried and wondered at the world, and that although their lives may be very different than most of ours they are just as valuable. See if you can read it without crying.

Mad in America
Author: Robert Whitaker
Publisher: Perseus Publishing
ISBN: 0-7382-0385-8

This book is interesting and troubling. Be warned that it may not be for everyone. Mr. Whitaker is a medical writer, and has written a lot about mental illness. He is generally considered to be among the anti-meds forces, but don't let that put you off if you have any interest in either the history of treatment of mental illness or in the ways drug companies go about seeking approval for new meds today.

A little more than the first half of the book is devoted to the history of treatment starting in the 1700s, from the older methods which were more like torture than treatment to the more recent shock and lobotomies through the early use of meds, and it is not pleasant reading. But the part that may disturb some people even more is the latter half, in which Mr. Whitaker sets out to show that we haven't come so very far at all.

There are lots of problems with the way he goes about this. One example is the way he treats medical studies. He spends a lot of time illustrating how years ago studies of new treatments showed that all of the old treatments worked well and were humane, only to have it shown later that they were at best useless and at worst cruel torture. He then denounces modern drug trial methods, saying that the profit motive of the big pharmaceutical companies is the real determining factor in study results, not good science. And there is truth in all of that. Yet on the other hand he relies heavily on other studies with which he agrees, primarily those which say that people recover often without treatment. Similar inconsistencies can be found in his discussions of other topics as well.

Mr. Whitaker is obviously a kind man, concerned with better, more humane treatment, and means well. But the thing that always is troubling about the anti-meds people is that they offer no viable alternative. To be fair, he does say in at least one place that meds can help in some cases. But generally he seems to be saying that today's treatments will be shown over time to be no more effective or humane that the old ones. Many people dealing with a mental illness know better than that. They also know that there is lots of room for improvement, both in meds and treatment in general. But we have to deal with what's happening right now.

Yet if you can get past the general anti-meds tone, and if you have an interest in the history of treatment and/or in how modern meds trials are conducted, this is an interesting read. The emphasis is on schizophrenia treatment throughout the book, especially in the latter part. The historical part is well worth reading, and the rest raises some points worth serious consideration.

(C) 2004, Our Beautiful Minds