Book Review: Asylum

  • Researchers who proved the link between creativity and mental illness last year conducted a study with a larger population sample and a wider scope of psychiatric conditions.  The results were reported in the Journal of Psychiatric Research this October.


    Forty years worth of data from Sweden's health registry anonymously covering almost 1.2 million patients and their relatives were researched.


    Bipolar disorder was more common among artists and scientists, from dancers and photographers to researchers and authors.


    Writers were more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and substance abuse.  They were almost 50 percent more likely to commit suicide than the general population, according to the study.

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    Could this have implications for how schizophrenia symptoms are treated? 


    Study researcher Simon Kyaga, a Karolinska Institutet doctoral student, wonders if it opens the way for a new approach to treatment where you can take the view that certain phenomena associated with the patient's illness are beneficial.


    (Creativity tied to mental illness like bipolar, disorder, schizophrenia in new Swedish study, retrieved on October 18, 2012 from . . .)


    See a SharePost I wrote here about Understanding Delusions.


    In related news:


    I will offer a book review of Asylum by Joe Pantoliano.


    He's the actor who won an Emmy Award for his role on the Sopranos.  I read his book in one night straight through when the howling winds of Hurricane Sandy prevented me from sleeping.


    Joe Pantoliano tells his story with riveting honesty; the kind that can't be manufactured.  His Seven Deadly Symptoms are sette bello in Italian: seven beauties.


    Towards the end of the book, "Joey Pants" realizes:


    "The thing about madness is that it gives its gifts to those of us cursed with the need to express ourselves.  All actors, all artists, have a pinch of madness that pulls us towards them.  We empathize with them.  Through their words, music, paintings, and acting, we identify, we see ourselves in them."


    Madness does give its gifts to those of us cursed with the need to express ourselves.


    For an illuminating look into Pantoliano's life and recovery from hardcore depression: I recommend you buy his brilliant memoir.


    Part of the royalties of the book will be given to No Kidding! Me Too! the foundation the actor created.  His message is: We are mad as hell, and we're not going to take this anymore!! Please join us as we educate souls everywhere to "STOMP THE STIGMA!"


    Its mission stated on the website:

    No Kidding, Me Too! is a 501(c)(3) public charity, whose purpose is to remove the stigma attached to brain dis-ease (BD) through education and the breaking down of societal barriers. Our goal is to empower those with BD to admit their illness, seek treatment, and become even greater members of society.

    Its goal articulated on the website:

    Make BD cool and sexy. We want a normal conversation in America to be:

  • "I have bipolar disorder/schizophrenia/insert dis-ease"

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    "No Kidding, Me Too!"


    Joe Pantoliano understood he had depression after filming the movie Canvas about a husband whose wife has schizophrenia. 


    He would encounter people in airports and at restaurants who asked what he was doing and they would respond: "I have schizophrenia/My wife has schizophrenia" and so on.


    In the epilogue of his book, Joe Pantoliano writes a letter to the late great Frank Capra:


    "I always felt encouraged because you were Italian-American.  Maybe I too could succeed.  I remember every Italian filmmaker and actor and the movies that swept me off my feet."


    I'm proud to share these roots with Joey Pants.


    His Napolitan mother's favorite expression was sumanabitch.  My Napolitan Nonna would shout out, "Shit, shit, shit!" as she brandished a spatula with dramatic effect.


    Our brain dis-eases also run along our maternal lines.


    My story culled from the talk I gave two years ago at the Italian American mental health conference is going to be a chapter in a book.


    Though I've yet to find on the Internet references to the role culture plays in how people experience their mental illnesses:


    I will tell you to buy Joe Pantoliano's book because he makes the connection.

    His greatest trials growing up in a broken-down Italian family in Hoboken, New Jersey were the fuel that ignited his talent as a character actor.


    Joey Pants, I salute your courage to tell the truth.


    Now if you'll excuse me: I want to begin a painting.  I was an artist as early as the first or second grade along with a writer.  I sketched and painted all through high school and college.  I stopped in the fall of 1987 after I got out of the hospital.


    Seven years ago I attended the Art Students League in the fall in Manhattan.  I always mourned my lost art all these years.  A wise friend suggested my recovery took priority when I was younger.


    Today I will start a painting.  I must Just Do It as the Nike slogan urges: set aside one or two hours a week to begin my art practice.


    Joe Pantoliano is right: our lost talents from our illness, our moods and memories, are strange beauties in our lives.  Yet our history doesn't have to be our destiny.


    We can improve with the right treatment and support.  We can recover and go on to contribute our talents to society in better ways.


    We can more than survive our hardship.  We can triumph.

Published On: November 18, 2012