cover image Healing: Our Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health

Healing: Our Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health

Thomas Insel. Penguin Press, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-29804-6

Insel, former director of the National Institute for Mental Health, debuts with a profound diagnosis of the ills and promises of the United States’ mental health-care system. Insel admits that during his tenure as the “nation’s psychiatrist,” he struggled to grasp the problem underlying the country’s mental health crisis: “Our science was looking for causes and mechanisms while the effects of these disorders were playing out with increasing death and disability, increasing incarceration and homelessness, and increasing frustration and despair.” In breaking down how mental illness became so pervasive, Insel explains the history of health-care policy in America, covering the Kennedy administration’s revolutionary attempts to supporting non-institutional care and the Reagan administration’s slashing of community health-care budgets. Insel offers a solid history of how systemic issues such as homelessness, mass incarceration, and for-profit health insurance keep the country tied to ineffective means of treating mental illness. But it’s not all doom and gloom: he offers a sense of hopeful solutions, including an expansion of community-based mental health programs, the use of technological innovations such as “digital phenotyping” that can help keep track of how people behave outside of clinics, and initiatives that provide employment, housing, and social connection. It’s as compassionate as it is comprehensive. (Feb.)