Nobody’s Normal: How Culture Created the Stigma of Mental Illness

Norton. Jan. 2021. 448p. ISBN 9780393531640. $30. PSYCH
With the eye of an anthropologist and a family legacy of psychiatry, Grinker explores how the contemporary United States came to its current understanding of mental illness and what is considered “normal.” The words we use and the structures we impose have changed throughout time and place, and stigma surrounding mental illness varies widely and evolves as doctors change the terms they use. While stigma around mental illness has decreased in some ways over the past decades, Grinker makes a provocative case that we still suffer from a mid-century invention of “normal,” and that we assume pathologies as a way of explaining physical manifestation of symptoms rather than accepting that mental health and our lived experience affect our overall health. While the content and arguments are illuminating, Grinker’s framing device adds useful drama and context. As he describes the experiences of his great-grandfather and grandfather in early psychoanalysis and psychology of soldiers, he highlights the history of psychology in the 20th century, as well as explicating a complicated family relationship (down to his daughter who has autism) that mirrors overall social trends.
VERDICT An excellent overview for those interested in medical history or psychology, and also of interest to memoir and family history readers.
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