The Book


Almost every day, one is likely to encounter the words "mental illness" whether through various forms of media or in conversation and as such it is a phrase  to which we give little thought - until, for one reason or another, we are forced to - and it is, ironically, the use of this word  'forced' that effectively describes our current paradigm of mental health.  In no other field is it possible for an individual to be removed from their own life, to be systematically stripped of identity until they no longer retain even the right to say no.  This is something that the general public have for the most part accepted because the information with which they have been provided has strongly suggested that there is no other way, that "mental illness" is  exactly that  - the result of a malfunctioning brain that must be treated  chemically or electrically and over which the sufferer has no control.  And it is this perceived lack of control that makes it not only permissible but mandatory to base mental health policy around involuntary commitment and forced treatment and sufferers as utterly "lacking in insight."

But what if all this is wrong?  What if there is no such thing as "mental illness" but rather only mental and emotional disorder or mental and emotional distress which is almost always a triggered reaction?   What if bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression are not mental diseases that will require medicating for the rest of one's life but episodic  occurrences that one can learn to manage and from which many have completely recovered?  What if the best scientific evidence points in the opposite direction to that which we've been led to believe is true?

The Special Patient addresses these questions  through  the true story of Holden Forster* found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity who will spend the next seven years of his life as a ‘special patient’ in a forensic psychiatric unit. But what happens if your psychosis is substance-induced and transient?  What happens when the psychosis lifts and you realise what you have done – that life as it had been is effectively over – how is it possible to bear such knowledge, can it even be done?  Holden will have to learn how to do so.  He will also have to learn how to live in a world he had not imagined existed: a system governed by ‘asylum mentality’ in which one can never recover but only ever be ‘in remission’.  He will be forced over and over again to prove his sanity to a system unwilling to believe it and he will realise that the psychiatric diagnosis he received - the diagnosis that would  drastically affect his life - was  wrong.
  
It is also a love story about a university academic who never imagined that the man of her dreams would be a Nietzsche-quoting ex-mental patient. Incensed by Holden's treatment,  Aimee begins  a search for the truth of Holden’s experience through access to his medical, criminal and psychiatric records. Three years of extensive research reveal issues of power, significant misinformation and the largely unscientific basis of much of the medical treatment of those suffering from any kind of mental disorder and have meant that Holden’s story has really become a case study of all of the above.  
  
 Fundamentally, however, it is a story about  resilience and reconstruction but most importantly of something like hope – for those who have been told they will never recover from mental distress and that their normal lives are effectively over.  There are better ways to assist those in mental and emotional distress than those we currently employ, ways that respect and honour the life of the individual rather than reinforcing fear and alienation.  That is what this book is about.  
  

*Names have been changed.