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Hidden Lives: Coming Out on Mental Illness

by Lenore Rowntree and Andrew Boden, eds.

Unlike many physical disabilities, mental illness can be difficult to identify and is rarely talked about. Sufferers often find it challenging to gain acceptance and understanding, and to acquire the support needed to live fulfilling, functional, and independent lives. Many facets of mental illness are still poorly understood, and treatment is often a guessing game.

Vancouver writers Lenore Rowntree and Andrew Boden have both been directly affected by mental illness in their families. This new essay collection was born out of a desire to reduce the stigma associated with these conditions. The essays (and a smattering of poems) cover a lot of ground, from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder, autism to depression. The stories are told by parents, children, and siblings whose lives have been affected by psychiatric disorders, and by people living with their own illnesses. The essays – sometimes humorous, often tragic, always moving – illustrate the far-ranging effects of mental illness and the failures of medical- and social-support systems that are supposed to help the afflicted.

While a sense of strength and determination pervades many of these pieces, readers are more likely to encounter loss and frustration than messages of hope. This pervasive sense of despair may serve only to alienate the very audience the editors want to reach. Still, these essays accentuate the message that being considered “normal” by society’s meagre standards should not necessarily be the goal of a person’s life, and that message alone is a good one.