Barbara Taylor’s moving tale of her descent into alcoholism and madness, and long journey back to health isn’t just another misery memoir. It certainly touches on misery, but along the way explores the deep and involved and little understood process of a lengthy psychoanalysis and the ongoing tortured relationship between mental illness and our publicly funded response to it. Her illness took her to stay, more than once, at the ‘last asylum’ – Friern Barnet, now home to swanky flats designed to keep the very people it used to house far away. While asylums have connotations of incarceration and inhumane treatments, when they work well, they offer a place of sanctuary and therapy, a ‘stone mother’ that Taylor is grateful for and laments our current lack of. Yes she saw miserable things happen at Friern, but she experienced the nourishing value of relationships on the ward – relationships make people, and make people better.
Despite IAPT and Government-backed initiatives to pair mental illness with physical ill-health, mental health remains the Cinderella of the NHS.- Madness touches us all in hidden places; the urge to push it away can be hard to resist. Now it seems most of the mental health system is yielding to this urge, she concludes.
This is an important book, at the least because it adds to the ‘service-user’ call for a radical re-think of our mental health system.