Writing as someone who lives with a son labelled 'schizophrenic', I am immensely grateful for this new and authoritative account of madness. Bentall refuses the Cartesian divide, which requires it to be seen either as a brain disease or as 'all in the mind'. He cites a vast array of evidence drawn from neurology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis and cognitive psychology to show that brain and mind are two aspects of a single system, and that madness and sanity are two ends of a continuum. He also demolishes the century-old myth that there are two distict illnesses, schizophrenia and manic/depressive disorder.
Bentall has a hopeful message to sufferers and their friends and families, though you have to work through a long book to reach it: family therapy and cognitive behaviour therapy do have the potential to help people back towards sanity. The earlier in life these methods are used, the better the chances of returning to normality. Wider public awareness of the early signs of madness and increased investment in providing these therapies could greatly improve mental health.
It would be misleading to compare Bentall with R D Laing, who asserted a great deal without evidence. However, the book would have benefited by reference to Gregory Bateson's 'ecology of mind'. Bentall only once mentions 'Geoffrey' Bateson, whom he dismisses for blaming the family, though Bateson himself thought in terms not of blame but of two-sided breakdowns in communication.
Bateson had the misfortune to write about madness in the 1950s, just at the time when effective drug treatments were found, and psychiatry began fifty years of obsession with pills. It is to be hoped that the new excitement over atypical drugs will not prevent Bentall's message from being heard.