50 SIGNS OF MENTAL ILLNESS > Reviews > The Washington Post

The Washington Post

Shrink Rap
How Sick Is Your Thinking Really?
Tuesday, March 29, 2005; Page HE02

You've always thought that guy down the block seemed a little off. And that woman the next cubicle over just seems strange. But, hey, you're no shrink, so what do you know? "50 Signs of Mental Illness: A User-Friendly Guide to Psychiatric Symptoms and What You Should Know About Them" (Yale University Press, $27.95) may show you that you know even less than you thought you did and cause you to look at others -- and yourself -- in a different light.

Author James Whitney Hicks, director of a New York forensic psychiatric center and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University, has delivered a smart, alphabetically arranged layperson's guide to common symptoms ranging from anxiety to deceitfulness that may be either personal quirks or signs of psychosis. Under the 50 symptom headings, Hicks differentiates relatively normal behaviors from those requiring medical attention.

Despite the title, Hicks writes that one goal of the book "is to show the extent to which many of these experiences" -- even hearing voices when no one is around -- "can be normal." Another goal, he says, is to put mental illness in context, "to demonstrate how normal even the oddest behavior can seem once you understand the underlying illness." If there is a governing ethos, it is that things that impair normal function should be treated.

Fascinating observations abound, such as: "Hate is a chronic form of anger. Hate is not a sign of mental illness on its own, but psychiatrists, sociologists and religious leaders would probably agree that it is rarely healthy."

In addition to symptoms and signs that you may identify in yourself and others, the book includes valuable information about the benefits and side effects of available medications. Hicks also identifies cases in which psychotherapy may be more appropriate than medication, though he is notably silent on what your insurer might have to say about that.

Beyond the 50 signs, the expansive index helpfully guides readers to relevant discussions, and there is an ample list of recommended resources for those seeking further information.

-- Gregory Mott


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