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MIL OSI – Source: Mental Health Foundation – Press Release/Statement

Headline: Read this week's book blog – Madness made me: A memoir, by Mary O'Hagan

O’Hagan, M. (2014) Open Box

For anyone who knows her, the title of Mary O’Hagan’s memoir will come as no surprise. Madness Made Me is a fitting title for the strident consumer advocate and mental health revolutionary’s account of her life so far, and her firm belief that madness itself has value.

Any concerns I’d had about how interesting or readable the book would be were melted away within its first few lines. O’Hagan has a fantastic writing style – she is eloquent, funny and honest, and her memoir is a real page-turner.

Childhood and mental distress

In the first chapter, the author muses about the root cause of her mental distress. The chapter, Becoming Me, gives readers a window into her childhood and is both tongue-in-cheek and thought-provoking. She reflects on the many possible causes of her distress, ranging from the very moment of her conception, separation anxiety at kindergarten, the loss of her baby brother and her failure as “an under-performing brownie”. 

I loved this chapter because – as I’m sure O’Hagan intended – it pokes fun at the stereotypical belief that mental health issues are often related to childhood. What the author is saying, or at least how I interpreted it, is cause isn’t always relevant and mental distress shouldn’t be a puzzle to solve – recovery is what matters. 

The mad movement

For years, O’Hagan has been sticking it to the man, with ‘the man’ in this case being traditional mental health services, the medical model of mental illness and psychiatry in general. Her mistrust of mainstream services is obvious throughout the book, but she doesn’t seem bitter about her treatment. Instead, it’s strengthened her dedication to bring about change. 

At one point, O’Hagan puts forward two scenarios involving a woman experiencing mental distress, who requires support and treatment. One is medically-based with established mental health services and the other includes peer-led support. I liked the fact that while the latter option was clearly O’Hagan’s preference, she doesn’t bag all traditional treatments, such as the use of medication. If she had strongly waved the anti-medication banner, some readers may have felt alienated by this view, so a neutral perspective was good to see in this part of the book.

Making sense of madness

By relating her personal journey and the part she played in the mad movement, the author gives readers an insight into how people were treated prior to deinstitutionalisation and the impact of seclusion. It’s not a history lesson, but by reading Madness Made Me, many readers will learn a lot they didn’t know about the treatment of people experiencing mental distress and particularly, psychosis. 

There are many more things I could say about this book, but most of all, I’d highly recommend it to people who know a little, or a lot, about the consumer movement in New Zealand, and would like to find out more about the experiences of people living with mental illness, and O’Hagan herself. You’ll learn a lot and be entertained along the way. 

Reviewed by Rebecca Proffitt, Senior Communications Officer with the Mental Health Foundation. 

You can find Madness made me: A memoir in our library catalogue. 

Books reviewed in this blog can be borrowed from the comprehensive lending library within the Resource & Information Service. It is located at Units 109-110, Zone 23, 23 Edwin St, Mt Eden and is open to the public from 9.00am – 4.30pm, Monday to Friday; phone (09) 623 4812. If you are outside Auckland, try your local public library for a copy first, if they don’t have it, we may be able to post the book out to you (requires membership).