Christian Books

Saturday, June 25, 2011

An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness
Kay Redfield Jamison
New York: Vintage Books, 1996
224 pages

Who might this book interest? This book provides an “insiders” experience of manic-depressive or bipolar illness.  Anyone who struggles with this illness, or has a friend or family member that struggles with it, may benefit from reading this book. The added benefit to this book is that Dr. Jamison not only struggles with the illness but is a clinical psychologist and university professor which give it an added depth that is often lacking in these types of personal accounts.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Quick Summary: Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison earned her Ph.D in Clinical Psychology from UCLA, served as a professor there, and is currently a Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.  In addition, she has struggled with manic-depressive or bipolar (although she does not like the term “bipolar”) illness for many years.

An Unquiet Mind tells the story of her personal journey with manic-depression from childhood through adulthood.  Many people will be able to relate personally to this work because they either have this illness or know someone who does.  Jamison’s story recounts the inner workings of the one suffering from it as well as the impact on those around them.  In addition, she speaks simply, but astutely about the clinical side of the disease.  Her personal struggle with manic-depressive illness provided the focus of her professional career.  Thus, she gives an intelligent and informed account from a personal and professional perspective.

She rightly identifies the most common problem for those with this illness: the refusal of patients to consistently take their medicine.  Why is this problem such an issue?  As Jamison relates it, the one suffering from manic-depression often finds themselves addicted to the highs of the manic stage.  In addition, many are taught that taking medicine means that you cannot handle the sickness on your own.  It is viewed as a crutch.  There is often a sense of guilt and embarrassment.  Jamison addresses these and other objections to medication in her narrative.

In addition to medication, Jamison also endorses psychotherapy.  Psychotherapy helps the sufferer deal not only with the emotional issues of the sickness, but also, those related to taking medication such as: guilt.  For her, the combination of medication and psychotherapy has helped to deal with her illness.  This observation is one of hindsight and experience, not of having realized this early in her treatment.  Like many who suffer from bipolar, she went off her medication several times before accepting it as part of her life.

In reading An Unquiet Mind, I felt inspired by the concern, care, and unconditional love and support provided by many of her family and friends.  While not everyone could or did provide that type of environment, she did have an important cadre of people around her that helped with her manic-depressive illness.

Evangelical Assessment: Earlier in my Christian and ministerial life, I was opposed to the use of pharmacological treatment for psychiatric issues.  I no longer feel this way.  Why?  I was uninformed.  As I gained further training and experience in counseling, I found that I had clients who did not respond to counseling alone, but when they began taking the appropriate medication, the medication and counseling together helped clients work through their issues.  Without the medication, we would have continued standing still.

Jamison is an Episcopalian and was raised attending church.  In addition, she mentions attending church periodically as an adult, but I am not sure in what sense that she is a Christian.  In the accounts of her younger years, she often alludes to her sexual promiscuity, going from one romantic relationship to another.  I do not know if or how her morality contributed to her illness or vice versa, but she does not seem to have any problems with her sexual behavior of that time.  As evangelicals, we believe that our sexuality is a gift from God and to be reserved for marriage for our own benefit.  Obviously, Jamison did not hold to this belief, but she did value her marriages, attempted to make the first one work after much difficulty, and was faithful to her second husband until his death.

I think that there is great value in her perspective.  Dr. Jamison has suffered with manic-depressive illness for many years and has insights into it.  Also, she is a scientist and clinician, who has researched and written much about manic-depressive illness over the course of many years.  Although science may study the phenomenological experience of God, I believe that religion is beyond the scope of science.  On the experiential side, I would have hoped that a Christian would express more of faith, dependence, and trust upon God, instead of primarily blame toward Him.

Jamison, Kay Redfield. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.

For some of the biographical information, I consulted her faculty profile at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine:

In addition, I consulted Wikipedia’s article on bipolar disorder:

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