Mental Illness Up Close
By Paul Gruchow
Levins Publishing, $14.99, 207 pages
Paul Gruchow’s Letters to a Young Madman is a challenging yet important book about mental illness. Challenging not in length or even in the information presented, but in its emotional toll on the reader. You see, this is Gruchow’s final work. He suffered from mental illness for most of his life, was in and out of hospitals, and tried countless medications and therapies. In desperation, he attempted suicide several times over the course of his 56 years. Sadly, he ended his life in 2004 by overdosing on prescription medication.
Gruchow’s memoir provides an intimate look at the mindset of the mentally ill, those who study and treat mental illness, and also the degrading environment of mental facilities and treatment the patients receive. In a section titled Semantics 1, Gruchow states “We say that one gets cancer, or a cold, or kidney disease. One would never think to say that one is cancer. But we say that one is depressed, or bipolar, or schizophrenic. A disease of the body is a condition. But a disease of the mind, we think, is a state of being.” Why is that? Gruchow has left us with a thought-provoking work. It fosters a desire to remove the stigma that surrounds mental illness and replace it with understanding and compassion for those who suffer.
Hopefully, Letters to a Young Madman will reach a large audience and impart an important message about the need for positive changes in the field of mental health in the United States.
Reviewed by Kimberly Logan-Elwell