Price: $2, from Boronia Salvos, Victoria.
One should always be cautious when picking up a vintage mental health book. The definitions, diagnostics and treatment of mental illness is constantly evolving. What was considered a mental illness in one decade may be declassified in the next. Previous understandings of mental illness may later be debunked, and formally standard treatment methods may have since been shown to be damaging or ineffective. So it was with these thoughts in mind that I picked up and took home The Case of Joshua Kirk from a local Salvos store.
Some vintage mental health books make for interesting historical artifacts, others may capture critical turning points in our understanding of mental illness, and others, such as the one I write about today, retain their relevancy and continue to serve their noble function.
The Case of Joshua Kirk describes an episode of schizophrenia based on a real life case. Written by a clinician, the case is presented for consumption by the lay public – to educate and foster a better understanding of what (sadly) remains a much feared and stigmatised condition. Although it was published some 28 years ago in 1984, apart from being set in the 1970s and containing a few outdated clinical terms, this respectful presentation of one man’s schizophrenic episode seems to be still relevant and suitable for a 2012 audience. I don’t claim to be overly familiar with schizophrenia so I’m sure that those who are may find some minor quibbles with the content, but overall, this short book carefully portrays the experience of a schizophrenic patient, his partner, and his clinicians.
When writing a detailed case study it is important to have the subject of the case study review it, to check for accuracy and to ensure that they are comfortable with it being published. I was pleased to see that this was done for this book. In earlier times patient consent was not deemed necessary. To publish such a work today without consent would be considered completely unethical.
The subject of the book, Joshua Kirk, is a PhD student. This fact illustrates the point that schizophrenia can effect anyone and it is not an illness confined to the homeless, as is sometimes ignorantly claimed. We meet Joshua when he is in the grip of delusion. He continues to go about his daily life but his wife and colleagues have noticed that something isn’t quite right. Joshua is convinced that he is the unwitting subject of an important experiment and suspects that many of the people around him are “in on it”. Through a series of events Joshua is placed in the mental health ward of a local hospital. Over a period of many weeks he is gently eased out of his delusion through careful treatment and medication. The reader receives a first person insight, not only into the experience of Joshua but his psychiatrist as well, as he guides Joshua to a full recovery.
What impressed me about the presentation of this case is an honest portrayal of the deliberations and vulnerabilities of the clinicians who are charged with their patients care. Treating mental illness is not an exact science and it is important for patients and families to understand this. And although Joshua was fortunate to make a recovery, through the example of one of his fellow patients on the mental health ward, the author reminds the audience that not all who experience schizophrenia will share such a positive outcome.
For patients and families of those newly diagnosed with schizophrenia, I can imagine that The Case of Joshua Kirk would assist in helping to demystify the illness (somewhat) and prepare them for the treatment road ahead (provided their clinicians are as diligent as the ones in this book. As anyone who has weaved their way through the mental health system can attest, unfortunately this will not always be the case). The case study offers reassurance and hope, that although some will suffer from schizophrenia their entire lives, most, when in receipt of appropriate care, will recover and go on to live full lives.
Importantly, the book illustrates that for those like Joshua, schizophrenia is like having a lifelong vulnerability to the illness, rather than having the illness on a permanent life long basis. This is a distinction that, although not relevant to all who experience schizophrenia, is appropriate to many, yet this remains poorly understood by the wider public. 28 years on, there is still much education left to do.
In 1987 The Schizophrenia Fellowship of Australia Inc changed its name to the Schizophrenia Fellowship of Victoria, and in 2001 became the Mental Illness Fellowship Victoria [source].