Ron Powers, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and noted author (Flags of Our Fathers), became an expert on schizophrenia the hard way.
Both of his sons developed the devastating and disabling mental disorder. One of them, Kevin, took his own life before he turned 21. The older son, Dean, went through torturous periods of psychosis, refusing counseling or medications, as well as hospitalizations, recovery center rehab and suicide attempts before reaching the point that Powers describes as “functioning well.”
Powers lived it and then he dug much deeper.
No One Cares About Crazy People (Hachette, 348 pp., **½ out of four stars) is a history of how mentally ill people have been regarded and treated from early times (not well) to current times (also not well).
Powers gives a raw account of the public and medical response to mental illness through the ages: from burning the insane at the stake; to chaining them to underground walls and conducting tours through asylums so paying guests could watch and taunt them; to the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1960s and ‘70s that resulted in hundreds of thousands of mentally ill people being shoved onto the streets without support.
Embroidered onto that canvas is Powers’ own captivatingly told story of his two sons — the pastoral Vermont upbringing filled with books and music, the early signs that something might be amiss, and the struggles to get decent care and treatment.
This is no easy-stroll primer. Well-researched (complete with citations and footnotes), it is a deep dive into the horrors of how the mentally ill have been treated over the centuries, told with a decided point of view — one that rarely entertains the notion that others might see things differently.