Pleading Insanity, by Andrew James Archer, Archway Publishing, Bloomington, IN, 2013, 275 pages, $18.
Pleading Insanity is a personal account of the author’s early struggles with bipolar disorder. The author, Andrew Archer, introduces the topic discussing his genetic link for the disorder, as the child of a parent who was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He states, “I never wanted to turn out like him,” yet points out that even early on, there were symptoms of his own struggles from infancy, through childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.
Archer discusses his symptoms and experiences as they begin to escalate during his freshman year in college. What is remarkable is the amount of detail Archer is able to recall and the painful emotions the retelling of his story must surely invoke. He describes his thoughts and behavior in such a way that the reader is often laughing and similarly wanting to cry as he describes his mania and his depression.
What sets this book apart from others about this topic is Archer’s honesty and firsthand accounts of his thought processes, as faulty as they may be, and his behaviors, which do not seem so farfetched once they are paired with his thinking. Especially helpful to the reader are parenthetical diagnostic criteria to provide a link between his symptomatology and that described in the terminology of the DSM IV. This link adds clarity for any reader, whether mental health professional, family member, friend, or someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Archer also describes his struggles with alcohol and drugs, which initially appeared to be a method of self-regulation/self-medication that soon escalated out of control. He describes how family and friends tried to help him, but they either didn’t know what do to or, because of legalities, were unable to intervene. He makes an important observation that sometimes the very system that is in place to help those experiencing mental illnesses are also the systems preventing timely intervention by loved ones.
Given the media coverage of the past several years and the correlation being created between acts of “random” violence and the mental health of those perpetrating the violence, perhaps avenues of intervention need tweaking.
The author, after experiencing a disruption in his education, getting involved in the legal system, experiencing cycles of mania and depression, is able to ultimately get his MSW and LICSW. Through his struggles, Archer learns the approach that has helped him to live a healthy life and reduce recurring episodes, which he describes using the image of a “carpenter triangle”—medication, support, and mindfulness.
Pleading Insanity should be required reading for anyone going into the fields of social work, psychology, or mental health. Additionally, the book is helpful for anyone who has a family member or friend who has to live with bipolar disorder, as well as anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of mental illness. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and highly recommend it.
Reviewed by Nancy Anderson, MSW, Social Work Field Education Director at Warner University.