I was recently asked to give some sources on mad history, or the history of mental illness as it affected those living with it (ie, focused less on psychiatry and more on the people living under psychiatry). Here’s the short list I came up with. Most of these books have been read personally by me, but some of them I’ve read ages ago or only in part, so I can’t 100% vouch for all of them. In addition, please keep in mind that many of these books deal with triggering topics such as ableism, institutionalization, eugenics, and medical abuse. I have provided some trigger warnings, but they are by no means extensive.
There are some other issues to keep in mind: these books are all based in Western countries and history, and there’s often very little mention of intersectionality, this goes extra for the history books since they don’t have the same reach as the first person sources.
Also, all memoirs and first person sources go back at minimum several decades since the purpose is providing history. It’s good to remember that there’s often different context, for example, much of the psychiatric survivor literature from the 60s and 70s focuses on overmedication and medicating without consent, but modern activists often focus more on access to affordable medication (although the former are still unfortunately problems.
Please feel free to add more books in reblogs or via asks!
FIRST PERSON SOURCES:
Circle of Madness: On Being Insane and Institutionalized in America, Robert Perrucci, 1974. A 1970s guide to the psychiatric system from the inside out, written by someone formally institutionalized as both a guide to the system and as a way of exposing it to non-psychiatric patients.
From Madness to Mental Health: Psychiatric Disorder and Its Treatment in Western Civilization, Edited by Greg Eghigian, 2010. Compilation on first person sources on mental illness and mental health ranging from 960 BCE to 1990. Be warned the font is unsual and it may be difficult to read for some people, unfortunately.
A Mad Person’s History of Madness, Edited by Dale Peterson, 1982. Another collection of first person sources with a focus on those by people mentally ill. Sources date from 1436 to 1976.
Shrink Resistant: The Struggle Against Psychiatry in Canada, Bonnie Burstow & Don Weitz, 1988. A collection of anti-psychiatry writing by Canadians who experienced the psychiatric system from the inside.
Madness, Heresy, and the Rumour of Angels: The Revolt Against the Mental Health System, Seth Farber, 1993. An collection of anti-psychiatry interviews with those who’ve experienced the psychiatric system firsthand.
Screw: A Guard’s View of Bridgewater State Hospital, Tom Ryan & Bob Casey, 1981. An inside few of the American forensic hospital Bridgewater State from 1972-1975, the same hospital exposed in the famous documentary Titticut Follies. Huge trigger warning for abuse of all kinds and racism.
Cold Storage, Wendell Rawls Jr, 1980. An expose of Pennsylvania’s Farview State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, written by a journalist and based on over 200 interviews conducted with inmates and guards. Huge trigger warning for abuse of all kinds and racism.
Keeping America Sane: Psychiatry and Eugenics in the United States and Canada 1880-1940, Ian Robert Dowbiggin, 1997. A history of the relationship between psychiatry and eugenics.
The Quest for Mental Health: A Tale of Science, Medicine, Scandal, Sorrow, and Mass Society, Ian Robert Dowbiggin, 2011. A more critical history of psychiatry and treatment for mental illness.
Remembrance of Patients Past: Patient Life at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane, 1870-1940, Geoffrey Reaume, 2009. Geoffrey Reaume is a historian with schizophrenia who set out specifically to record the history of the lives of patients institutionalized and dealing with the psychiatric system, and this book is explicitly written in a mad history/studies context.
Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America’s Premier Mental Hospital, Alex Baem, 2001. A history of the most exclusive psychiatric hospital in the United States, this book follows from its inception as a public hospital in 1816 until the modern day. This book has extensive coverage of what mental health care looked like for the most privileged in society for the last two decades, and was also the same hospital attended by Susanna Kaysen of Girl, Interrupted fame in the 1960s.
A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac, Edward Shorter, 1997. This text is less critical of psychiatry than most on here but still provides a definitive and scholarly history of mental illness under the purview of psychiatry in the western world.
Madness in America: Cultural and Medical Perceptions of Mental Illness before 1914, Lynn Gamwell & Nancy Tomes, 1995. Excellent book on psychiatry before psychiatry was fully established as a discipline. Contains many historical illustrations, paintings, and photographs, some of which may be upsetting or triggering in their treatment of the mentally ill.
The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic, Darby Penney & Peter Stastny, 2008. I haven’t read this one personally yet, so I can’t give as much information, but it’s a history of Willard State and the people who lived their told through the suitcases left behind when the hospital was abandoned and closed in 1995.
Crazy in America: The Hidden Tragedy of our Criminalized Mentally Ill, Mary Beth Pfeiffer, 2007. This book focuses on a more modern era (mostly the last two decades) but I included it because I think it’s an incredibly important critique of the ways in which mental illness intersects with the American so-called criminal justice system. It also serves as a followup to Screw and Cold Storage.
The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease, Jonathan Metzl, 2011. Metzl covers the ways in which racism intersects with perception of mental illness, particularly for Black Americans during the civil rights movement and the ways in which schizophrenia diagnoses were used to discredit them.
America’s Care of the Mentally Ill: A Photographic History, William E. Baxter & David W. Hathcox, 1994. This hard to find book (I suggest checking university libraries) has hundreds of photographs and illustrations of American psychiatry and institutions dating from the 18th century to mid-20th.
The Shame of the States, Albert Deutsch, 1948. The classic expose of the terrible conditions in American psychiatric hospitals in the mid 20th century. Very hard to find, again, I suggest checking universities, that’s where I managed to read it.
The Mentally Ill in America: A History of their Care and Treatment from Colonial Times, Albert Deutsch, 1937. Lesser known book by Deutsch on the early history of psychiatry in the United States. Worth checking out for the amount of detail seldom given in modern books, and for the early example of criticism against psychiatry.
Girl, Interrrupted, Susanna Kaysen, 1993. One of the most famous books about mental illness. Covers the author’s several years in the most expensive psychiatric hospital in America, McLean Hospital, during the 1960s. Worth reading, but also keep in mind that as a wealthy and white Senator’s daughter the author was in an extremely privileged position compared to other patients in the psychiatric system.
The Last Time I Wore a Dress, Dylan Scholinski (published under Daphne Scholinski), 1997. Memoir of a teenager in the 1980s who spent several years in psychiatric hospitals treated for gender identity disorder. TW for transphobia, homophobia, and misogyny.
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Hannah Green/Joanne Greenberg, 1964. A classic, Rose Garden isn’t technically a memoir, but it is heavily based on Joanne Greenberg’s lived experience and stay in a psychiatric hospital in the 1940s. The novel also tackles anti-semitism and the stress of physical disease, and was published both under Hannah Green originally (a pseudonym) and then later Joanne Greenburg.
Nobody’s Child, Marie Balter & Richard Katz, 1991. A memoir of an adopted woman who spends the first who decades of her life in psychiatric hospitals dealing with severe anxiety and depression.
Life Inside, Mindy Lewis, 2002. Memoir of a teenager sent to a psychiatric hospital by court order in 1967 for skipping school and smoking pot.
Only for a Fortnight: My Life in a Locked Ward, Sue Reed, 1989. Memoir of a 12 year old sent to live in an adult psychiatric ward. Sue Reed remained there for 5 1/2 years before being released. TW for csa/rape and abuse.
My Lobotomy, Howard Dully & Charles Fleming, 2007. Howard Dully was one of the youngest people to have a lobotomy at the age of 12 in 1967. It was performed by the famed Walter Freeman, who popularized the lobotomy in the 30s and through the 60s til his last, disgraced, in 1967. My Lobotomy tells of Dully’s experiences with Freeman, his later time in a variety of institutions, and his feelings looking back as a middle-aged man.
The Dark Threads: A Psychiatric Survivor’s Story, Jean Davison, 2009. The other book on this list I’ve not read, and another memoir of a teenager instituationalized in the psychiatric system of the 1960s and 1970s.