Network, Spring 2004
Personal stories have a unique ability to undermine the stigma of mental illness by moving readers beyond stereotypes and misconceptions, and into the very real details of someone’s life. Journalists Julia Nunes and Scott Simmie are excellent storytellers, and their deliberate goal in Beyond Crazyis to “take a big whack at stigma” by showing that “mental illness hits all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons.” Artists, politicians, housewives, radio announcers, athletes, students, siblings, parents and children — no one is immune, and everyone has their own tale to share.
The collection combines first-person accounts, submitted by people from across the country, with interview-based profiles by Simmie and Nunes. Many of the people telling their stories are well known: Olympic figure-skater Elizabeth Manley, politicians David Reville and Michael Wilson, comedian Scott Thompson, actor Margot Kidder, and musician Ronnie Hawkins. Others are ordinary people — students, journalists, healthcare workers, family members — whose stories are equally compelling. And some contributors choose to remain anonymous, a reminder that stigma continues to haunt us.
The authors told their own stories in The Last Taboo: A Survival Guide to Mental Health Care in Canada (2001). Although they took a very personal approach, the book focused primarily on giving practical information and advice to help people navigate the “system.” There are practical lessons to be learned from Beyond Crazy too, but here the authors have another objective: to show that people can and do recover from mental illness. In this, they share the vision of Boston-based psychologist Dr. William A. Anthony, executive director of the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation. Dr. Anthony is a leader in researching and promoting the ideas of resilience and recovery — the concept that people need more than medication and psychotherapy to get well. They need social supports — a job, a home, a friend — to help them move through the trauma of mental illness and find new meaning in life and opportunities to grow.
Dr. Anthony began his groundbreaking research in the 1970s by doing something that very few other healthcare professionals were doing: listening to the stories of people with mental illness, to understand the challenges they faced and to discover what they wanted and needed to cope. He learned to look past the impairment, to see the whole person and not just the diagnosis.
Beyond Crazy succeeds by helping readers to do exactly that: to look beyond the label. The stories are personal, and each person brings a unique perspective — on suffering, suicide, family tragedy. By talking openly about mental illness, they break the taboo. And together, they tell a compelling story of survival, resilience, and recovery.
Beyond Crazy: Journeys through Mental Illness, by Julia Nunes and Scott Simmie, was first published in 2002 by McClelland and Stewart. The trade paperback edition was released in February 2004.
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