Reviews for The Myth Of Normal

by Gabor Maté with Daniel Maté

Publishers Weekly
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Physician Maté (In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts) delivers a sweeping analysis of the relationship between illness, trauma, and capitalism. “Our social and economic culture generates chronic stressors that undermine well-being,” contends Maté, suggesting that medical treatment should better attend to the mind-body connection and the impact of one’s environment on one’s health. Though Maté tells of surviving hunger and disease as an infant in Hungary during WWII, he mostly focuses on the traumas of day-to-day life, including how pregnant mothers’ stress about employment or healthcare may lead to behavioral problems in their children, and how the effects of racism and poverty lead to lower life expectancies. The author details the role that emotions might play in somatic illness, citing studies that found, among patients admitted for biopsy, those with suppressed anger were more likely to have malignant tumors. Maté brings compassion to his examination of societal failures and elucidates how addiction is often an attempt to quell the pain of having been abused. Maté marshals an impressive amount of research to outline an original and persuasive vision of health focused on environmental influences and the interplay between the mind and body, though the extensive studies mentioned sometimes verge on redundancy. Nevertheless, this bold reappraisal has the power to change how readers think about health. (Sept.)

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A sweeping examination of the roots of today’s mental illness epidemic. Gabor Maté, a doctor who specializes in addiction treatment, is the author of the acclaimed 2008 book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction. In his latest, co-written with his son, composer and lyricist Daniel, he casts a wider net, investigating why an increasing number of people are suffering from mental and physical illnesses. “Nearly 70 percent of Americans are on at least one prescription drug; more than half take two,” write the authors, who sees two overlapping layers to the problem. The first is that traumas—a term he defines widely—are going unrecognized and untreated. Combined with the stress of modern life, the result is that many people retreat into addictive medication, which often causes or exacerbates physical ailments. Once, these mental strains were addressed by communal activities and personal connections, but those remedies are vanishing in the digital age. The second level is the economic organization of techno-capitalism, which creates conditions of inequality, reclusiveness, and manipulation. Taken together, these issues create a yawning gap between how people live and how their biology wants them to live. “A society that fails to value communality…is a society facing away from the essence of what it means to be human,” write the authors. They believe that individuals must accept their traumas in order to move past them and toward true healing. Stress, alienation, and isolation should be denormalized. At the sociopolitical level, the authors acknowledge that they do not have any simple answers, although making the medical, legal, and teaching professions more humanistic would be a good start. At more than 500 pages, the text demands attention and reflection, but it repays the effort, giving readers much to ponder. An important, insightful book explaining how society became a vortex of mental illness and offering possible remedies. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.