American Psychosis: How the Federal Government Destroyed the Mental Illness Treatment System
by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D.
RC 443 .T66 2014
“In 1963 President John F. Kennedy delivered an historic speech on mental illness and retardation. He described sweeping new programs meant to replace “the shabby treatment of the many millions of the mentally disabled in custodial institutions” with treatment in community mental health centers. Though he never publicly acknowledged it, Kennedy’s actions were generally understood as a tribute to his sister Rosemary, who was born mildly retarded and developed a troubling schizophrenia-like illness later in her life.
Fifty years after Kennedy’s speech, American Psychosis provides a privileged insider’s perspective on the birth of the federal mental health program. On staff at the National Institute of Mental Health when the program was being developed and implemented, E. Fuller Torrey draws on his own first-hand account of the creation and launch of the program, extensive research, one-on-one interviews with people involved, and recently unearthed audiotapes of interviews with major figures involved in the legislation. As such, this book provides historical material previously unavailable to the public. Torrey examines the political maneuverings required to pass the legislation, the Kennedys’ involvement in the policy and that of other major players, the responsibility of the state versus the federal government in caring for the mentally ill, and how closing institutions has ultimately resulted not in better care – as was the aim – but in underfunded programs, neglect, and higher rates of community violence. Today at least one-third of homeless individuals are seriously mentally ill, as are approximately 20 percent of those incarcerated, and public facilities are overrun by untreated individuals. An unflinching account of the history – and present day failings – of our mental health treatment system, American Psychosis is a rallying cry for the necessity of establishing better psychiatric care for our nation’s most vulnerable.” – publisher description