New Books Worth Reading

Robert Whitaker’s new book, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illnessis a disturbing and very important book from a journalist and historian who has exhaustively researched a subject of great importance to anyone involved in creating sanctuary for children, adults, or families.

Ask almost any psychiatrist, general practitioner, or other mental health provider – or even any member of the general public – and when asked how they understand the cause of mental illness – they will respond, “It’s due to a chemical imbalance”. If similarly asked what to do about those problems, most people are likely to refer to the benefits of antipsychotics, antidepressants, and antianxiety medications.

So given this widespread acceptance of both a theory about what causes disturbed behavior and the widespread use of medications, we should know whether or not they are effective treatments. Worse yet, the last thing anyone wants to hear is that they may be causing more problems than they are solving, contributing mightily to what the author cites as the “astonishing rise in mental illness” in America.

Here is a review of the book:  “When Whitaker (Mad in America, 2002) learned that between 1987 and 2007 the number of Americans disabled due to mental illness more than doubled despite a whopping $40 billion annual psychotropic drug tab, it gave him pause. Given their widespread use—greater than even that of cholesterol-lowering drugs—he had believed that psychopharmaceuticals were magic bullets, knocking mental illness out of the game, returning formerly disabled people to the ranks of productive citizens. But the deeper he probed into clinical studies in prestigious scientific journals, some dating back more than 50 years, the more he noticed a shocking anomaly. Psychiatric drugs have repeatedly been shown to worsen mental illness, to say nothing of the risks of liver damage, weight gain, elevated cholesterol and blood sugar, and reduced cognitive function they entail. The reality, he says, is that, because no one knows what causes mental illness, there’s no cure or palliation to be found in these pills. What with the conclusions Whitaker draws from his assembled literature and the accusations he levels at those who consciously deceive consumers eager for magical cures, his book will either blow the lid off a multibillion-dollar industry or cause him to be labeled a crackpot and, perhaps, medicated into obscurity. At the very least, it should prod those who take the drugs to question those who prescribe them”. --Donna Chavez

What if what is now standard practice is actually harming the children and adults we treat? This thorough review of existing literature is an easy read that systematically takes the reader through over fifty years of research, exposes the fundamental corruption that may be at the heart of the problem, and then spends a chapter at the end describing interventions around the world that do not require the medication regimes we have in place in the U.S. but that are consistent with the Sanctuary Model. This book needs to be mandatory for anyone working in our field and a source of widespread discussion.

The book is available in hardback and electronic forms from Amazon and from Barnes and Noble.

-Sandra Bloom, January 2011

Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley is a delightful book about nature, beautifully written by a committed scientist about a subject he has studied his whole life – the lives of honeybees. Without honeybees, the pollinators of the world – we could not survive.

The reason this book is relevant for our work in the Sanctuary Model is because of the connections the author makes between the way honeybees make decisions about finding new homes – decisions that determine life or death of the entire collective “superorganism” that is a bee hive and both the way the primate brain processes information and the ways in which human groups can use honeybee decision making as a guide to better decisions.

From the Product Description:

Honeybees make decisions collectively--and democratically. Every year, faced with the life-or-death problem of choosing and traveling to a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate, and consensus building. In fact, as world-renowned animal behaviorist Thomas Seeley reveals, these incredible insects have much to teach us when it comes to collective wisdom and effective decision making. A remarkable and richly illustrated account of scientific discovery, Honeybee Democracy brings together, for the first time, decades of Seeley's pioneering research to tell the amazing story of house hunting and democratic debate among the honeybees.

In the late spring and early summer, as a bee colony becomes overcrowded, a third of the hive stays behind and rears a new queen, while a swarm of thousands departs with the old queen to produce a daughter colony. Seeley describes how these bees evaluate potential nest sites, advertise their discoveries to one another, engage in open deliberation, choose a final site, and navigate together--as a swirling cloud of bees--to their new home. Seeley investigates how evolution has honed the decision-making methods of honeybees over millions of years, and he considers similarities between the ways that bee swarms and primate brains process information. He concludes that what works well for bees can also work well for people: any decision-making group should consist of individuals with shared interests and mutual respect, a leader's influence should be minimized, debate should be relied upon, diverse solutions should be sought, and the majority should be counted on for a dependable resolution.

An impressive exploration of animal behavior, Honeybee Democracy shows that decision-making groups, whether honeybee or human, can be smarter than even the smartest individuals in them.

Honeybee Democracy is available in hardback and electronic versions from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

-Sandra Bloom, January 2011

If you are a reader of detective novels, I can heartily recommend a series of stories that focus on a character, Detective Ian Rutledge, who is a survivor of World War I, a victim of shell shock, and all that goes along with it including being haunted by a comrade he was forced to kill. Besides being great stories, the descriptions of dissociation are amazing and accurate. Not only that, but the series now encompasses thirteen books, so the reader can experience the development of this character over time. A Test of Wills is the first in the series. For a timeline of all the books, go to the mother-son author website

From the Book Description: In 1914, Ian Rutledge left a brilliant career at Scotland Yard to fight in the Great War. Now, in 1919, he is back, burdened with a heavy secret: he is still suffering from shell shock. With him almost constantly is the cynical, taunting voice of the young Scots soldier he was forced to have executed on the battlefield for refusing to fight.

In a desperate gamble to salvage his sanity, Rutledge takes up his duties at Scotland Yard. But a colleague, jealous of Rutledge’s pre-war successes, has learned his secret and maneuvers to have him assigned to a case that promises to spell disaster no matter what the outcome. In a Warwickshire village, a popular retired military officer has been murdered, and the chief suspect is, unhappily for the Inspector, a much-decorated war hero and a friend of the Prince of Wales.

Rutledge, fighting his malady and the tormentor in his head (who is the personification of his own doubts and guilt), doggedly goes about his investigation. He digs into the lives of the villagers: the victim’s ward, a young woman now engaged to the chief suspect; a local artist shunned because of her love for a German prisoner; the reclusive cousins whose cottage adjoins the dead man’s estate. But the witness who might be able to tell him the most is a war-ravaged ex-soldier who chills Rutledge with the realization that if he loses control of himself, he could become this man.

This interesting writing team has begun another detective series with the main character as a World War I nurse, Bess Crawford.

Book Description: Tending to the soldiers in the trenches of France during the First World War, battlefield nurse Bess Crawford is sent back to England in the early summer of 1917 with a convoy of severely burned men. One of her patients, a young pilot, has clung to a photograph of his wife since his plane went down, and Bess can’t help but notice the photo every time she tends to him. After the patients are transferred to a clinic in Hampshire, Bess is ready for her two-day leave, planning to return to her flat in London to catch up on some much-needed rest. But at the railway station, in a mob of troops leaving for the front, Bess catches a glimpse of a familiar face. Could that be the pilot’s wife? And why is she bidding a very emotional farewell to a soldier who is not her husband?

The entire series, with one exception, are available in hardback, most in softback, and electronically from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.