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A bold, expert, and actionable map for the re-invention of America’s broken mental health care system.
“Healing is truly one of the best books ever written about mental illness, and I think I’ve read them all." —Pete Earley, author of Crazy
As director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. Thomas Insel was giving a presentation when the father of a boy with schizophrenia yelled from the back of the room, “Our house is on fire and you’re telling me about the chemistry of the paint! What are you doing to put out the fire?” Dr. Insel knew in his heart that the answer was not nearly enough. The gargantuan American mental health industry was not healing millions who were desperately in need. He left his position atop the mental health research world to investigate all that was broken—and what a better path to mental health might look like.
In the United States, we have treatments that work, but our system fails at every stage to deliver care well. Even before COVID, mental illness was claiming a life every eleven minutes by suicide. Quality of care varies widely, and much of the field lacks accountability. We focus on drug therapies for symptom reduction rather than on plans for long-term recovery. Care is often unaffordable and unavailable, particularly for those who need it most and are homeless or incarcerated. Where was the justice for the millions of Americans suffering from mental illness? Who was helping their families?
But Dr. Insel also found that we do have approaches that work, both in the U.S. and globally. Mental illnesses are medical problems, but he discovers that the cures for the crisis are not just medical, but social. This path to healing, built upon what he calls the three Ps (people, place, and purpose), is more straightforward than we might imagine. Dr. Insel offers a comprehensive plan for our failing system and for families trying to discern the way forward.
The fruit of a lifetime of expertise and a global quest for answers, Healing is a hopeful, actionable account and achievable vision for us all in this time of mental health crisis.
About the Author
Thomas lnsel, MD, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist, has been a national leader in mental health research, policy, and technology. From 2002-2015, Dr. Insel served as Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). More recently, he led the Mental Health Team at Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences); co-founded Mindstrong Health, a digital mental health company for people with serious mental illness; and launched Humanest Care, a therapeutic online community for recovery. Since May of 2019, Dr. Insel has been a special advisor to California Governor Gavin Newsom and Chair of the Board of the Steinberg Institute in Sacramento, California. Dr. Insel is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and has received numerous national and international awards including honorary degrees in the U.S. and Europe.
“The outcomes for people treated for serious mental illness are often poor . . . Why? A psychiatrist and neuroscientist who headed the National Institute of Mental Health in 2002-15 and has since returned to the private sector, Dr. Insel is well-positioned to answer the question . . . traveling widely to identify the crisis of care and look for solutions. Healing is the product of this odyssey—and a compelling summary of all that he learned along the way.” —Sally Satel, The Wall Street Journal
“[Insel’s] recollections give depth and provide a human face to the problems he articulates and offer hints at possible solutions . . . Like a good doctor, Insel identifies symptoms and prescribes solutions to the problems that plague the country’s mental health infrastructure . . . our country’s soul is in a decidedly bad place. Healing suggests a path toward a better one.” —Benjamin F. Miller, Science
“Insel’s reflective and heartfelt book is an important contribution to the ongoing debate about how to address the current crisis that prevents so many Americans saddled with a serious mental illness from rebuilding their lives.” —Joshua C. Kendall, Undark
“Rarely does a book come along that has so much potential to influence American policy and quality of life as this one does . . . Readers of this important book will gain a greater, more complete understanding of mental health issues in the United States and will be pointed toward steps that could lead to radical change in mental health care. Recommended for all libraries.” —Library Journal
“Insightful and thorough . . . a must read if you want to understand what’s broken in the USA’s mental healthcare system . . . a catalyst to infuse the American mental healthcare system with justice and hope. Change can be had if we refocus our efforts in more productive ways . . . The people who hold the public purse strings and make decisions about funding mental healthcare and other social services need to read this outstanding book.” —Constance Scharff, The New York Journal of Books
“[Healing] offers a wealth of fresh, clear, and mercifully jargon-free facts and insights into America’s mental health care problems and possible solutions. . . . This is a formidable entry in the field of books about the mental health crisis.” —Kirkus
“Insel, former director of the National Institute for Mental Health, debuts with a profound diagnosis of the ills and promises of the United States’ mental health-care system . . . He offers a sense of hopeful solutions, including an expansion of community-based mental health programs, the use of technological innovations such as ‘digital phenotyping’ that can help keep track of how people behave outside of clinics, and initiatives that provide employment, housing, and social connection. It’s as compassionate as it is comprehensive.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“There is no one better equipped to address this dialectic between medicine and humanism, and there is no more urgent task in modern medicine than bridging this yawning gap.”—Andrew Solomon, author of Noonday Demon and Far from the Tree
“Healing is truly one of the best books ever written about mental illness, and I think I’ve read them all. Dr. Insel speaks as a parent, scientist, doctor, and our government’s former ‘nation’s psychiatrist,’ defining what’s wrong and offering clear-headed solutions—all while guiding us forward with compassion, goodness, and hope in this juggernaut wake-up call.” —Pete Earley, author of Crazy
“Healing is a masterpiece. Tom Insel has combined his powerful intellect, knowledge of science and history, and decades of experience with real life examples, and combines analysis of the nature of the problem, the history of how we and others have dealt with it, the programs that work and what we can do to fix a broken system, in a clear, concise and powerful way. If you care about mental illness—whether you suffer yourself from a brain disease, have experienced a family member or dear friend with serious mental illness, are a policy maker with responsibility for reforming the broken system, or simply want to be educated—this book is a must read.” —Norman Ornstein, New York Times bestselling author of One Nation After Trump
“The mental health crisis in America has been neglected for too long, with care made inaccessible or ineffective for too many of us. In this essential book, one of our most visionary leaders reveals that the solution demands a holistic approach. By reframing the mental health crisis as an opportunity for social justice, hopefully Tom Insel’s ideas will bring about long-needed progress toward a more inclusive, more compassionate, and healthier society. Healing is for every family dealing with a mental health issue, which today means nearly every family in the United States.” —Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter
“The time has come for a social movement to address the needs of people with mental illness across national borders. I believe that Tom Insel’s book can be the catalyst for this movement.” —Shekhar Saxena, MD, Former Director of Mental Health, WHO, Geneva
“The mental health crisis has become the civil rights issue of our time. Someday we will look back at our incarceration and exclusion of people with brain disorders and wonder how we could have been so callous. With this book, that day may come sooner than any of us imagine. Insel, the nation’s expert on the science of mental illness, shows us how we shall overcome the chaos of the mental health crisis with commitment and compassion.” —Patrick Kennedy, former Representative US Congress; Founder, Kennedy Forum