Our Necessary Shadow: The Nature and Meaning of Psychiatry by Tom Burns; Strictly Bipolar by Darian Leader - review by David Healy

David Healy

Madness Inc

Our Necessary Shadow: The Nature and Meaning of Psychiatry


Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 332pp £20

Strictly Bipolar


Penguin Books 96pp £5

Tom Burns and Darian Leader are both engaging men. Both these books are easy reads – a transatlantic plane flight would speed past in their authors’ company. Both know a lot about that most fascinating of topics – what makes us tick. Both are well versed in academic theories about why we do what we do but wear their knowledge lightly. Both have a fund of stories about people they have treated and the extraordinary things that have happened to them, but remain relatively modest in their solutions.

It’s the modesty that leaves you believing that if things went wrong – if you had a mental breakdown, say – all would turn out well if you saw one of them. It also leaves you thinking that whatever we might hear about the difficulties faced by local mental health services, if there are people as reasonable as this running them, things surely cannot be too bad.

But here’s the problem: the books are engaging, and their authors are too, but mental illness is a lot less accommodating. Burns concedes that there will always be people who have difficulties accepting
psychiatry, given that it has a police function when patients pose a threat to themselves and others. Psychiatry

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