The Mind and the Moon : My Brother's Story, the Science of Our Brains, and the Search of Our Psyches, by Daniel Bergner.

In a workshop run by the Hearing Voices Network, the journalist Daniel Bergner - a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine - participated in a mock job interview.

He sat across from a pretend employer who asked all the usual questions : What was Bergner's work experience? What were his hobbies? All the while, another participant whispered down a long tube made of wrapping paper into Bergner's ear : Careful what you say.

Careful what you say about your background. Bergner couldn't think straight. The interviewer continued : Was Bergner a team player? The whispery voice kept on ; Careful what you say about your background. The exercise didn't last long.

For Bergner, the dark warnings went from incredibly distracting to totally irresistible, and he gave up, rather than yell ''Shut up'' at the voice that only he could hear.

It's a small but insignificant moment in ''The Mind and the Moon.'' Hearing voices - for those of us who don't - seems like an alien, almost other worldly experience. But Bergner normalizes it, demonstrating the way that people who experience intrusive voices face practical challenges as well as emotional ones.

The scene elicits a deep empathy for voice hearers, and for everyone who experiences mental health issues. It is a characteristic of many of the examples in the book, which is a profound and powerful work of essential reporting.

Inspired in part by his brother's lifelong struggle with mental health, Bergner follows three individuals, who variously experience overwhelming depression, anxiety and other kinds of distress, including symptoms of psychosis.

He explores the history of drug development, modes of treatment and the marketing of psycho-pharmacetuticals. He poses questions about the ethical challenges, complex social issues and other problems of modern biological psychiatry, and he makes a strong case that radical examination and change are urgently required.

Caroline, one of the individuals Bergner follows, first heard voices when she was in the day care. Some of them were friendly, but others were cruel, not just to her but to one another.

In elementary school, she played Sorry with one voice [she moved his pieces] who told her that her parents were going to die.

Caroline was prescribed a suite of pharmaceuticals in childhood, and later, drugs like Abilify, Risperdal, Depakote, lithium and Seroquel. The drugs sometimes quieted her voices, but they brought on obesity, uncontrollable trembling of hands and arms, hair loss and other side effects.

These led to more troubled behaviours, like punitive exercising [an attempt to lose weight], hair-pulling and narcotics use.

All the effects changed the way Caroline lived and the way people reacted to her. Whatever alienation and misery she had experienced dealing with the voices was amplified again and again by the consequences of her treatment.

It is with great skill that Bergner places Caroline's story in the context of the history of modern psychiatry. It's hard to do justice to the sweep of the larger story he tells, but probably the most shocking part is the utter randomness that has characterized so much of the modern search for psycho-pharmaceuticals, combined with the utterly devastating side-effects they can have.

The World Students Society thanks review author Christine Kenneally.


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