Award winning columnist and mental health advocate Tom Davis has been writing about psychiatric issues for years. His first person accounts and interviews with those who have suffered from chronic mental illness are deeply moving and realistic.
Through his website Coping With Life, visitors leave with an indelible understanding of the experience of mental illness through the voices of those who are challenged to manage its symptoms, interact with our mental health systems and deal with the chronic unmitigated stigma which can become unto itself, a daunting recovery task.
Last year, Tom received the Golden Bell Leadership Award from the Mental Health Association in New Jersey. He is one of only six people in the nation to have received The Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowship in 2004. He teaches a groundbreaking course on Mental Health Issues in the Media at Rutgers and Farleigh Dickenson University. He has been a consistent supporter of postpartum depression legislation and frequently invites guest bloggers to post on the topic.
With the publication of his new book A Legacy of Madness, Tom extends his powerful advocacy force to the world of print publications.
Following is an excerpt about A Legacy of Madness:
“Dorothy Winans ‘Dede’ Davis had worried, fussed, and obsessed for the last time. Her heart stopped beating in a fit of anxiety, soon after her wobbly legs gave way. In the wake of his mother’s death, Tom Davis knew one thing: Helplessly self-absorbed and severely obsessive compulsive, Dede led a tormented life. She had moved from nursing home to mental institution in recent years, but what really caused her death?
The story of a loving family coming to grips with its own fragilities, A Legacy of Madness relays Tom Davis’s journey to uncover, and ultimately understand, the history of mental illness that led generations of his suburban American family to their demise. Investigating his mother’s history led to that of Davis’s grandfather, a top administrator at one of the largest psychiatric hospitals in the country; his great-grandfather who died of self-inflicted gas asphyxiation during the Depression; and his great-great grandmother who, with her eldest son, completed suicide one tragic day. Ultimately, four generations of family members showed clear signs of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and alcoholism—often mistreated illnesses that test one’s ability to cope.
Through this intimate memoir we join Davis on a personal odyssey to ensure that the fifth generation—he and his siblings—recover their family legacy, by not only surviving their own mental health disorders but by getting the help they need to lead healthy, balanced lives. In the end, we witness Davis’s powerful transition as he makes peace with the past and heals through forgiveness and compassion for his family and himself.”
I have preordered the book with the knowledge that this will not be an easy weekend read.
Instead, I expect to be profoundly moved by the kind of courage and honesty unique to someone whose knowledge of such issues goes beyond textbooks and clinical practice and comes straight from his own soul.
He writes about families you may know.
There are echoes of my grandmother who “fell on her head” – the explanation given for the dark moods and incredible rages that alternated with periods of engaging warmth, Canasta, Red Sox games and Brighams ice cream. You may recognize your brother, your uncle, or your cousin in his words.
You may recognize yourself as someone who has suffered, struggled or seeks to reverse a mother-daughter impasse which remains unresolved despite generations of pain.
Tom brings to light the accumulation of family trauma that can result when mental health issues remain unaddressed across lifetimes. But the book ultimately brings a transformational hope to those who seek a different outcome.
There are hundreds of websites where you can find information about signs, symptoms, treatment centers, complementary medicine and medication for mental illness. But there are very few online or print refuges where you can spend time with individuals who have suffered chronic mental illness and come to a compassionate understanding of its total impact.
With depression stealthily advancing to the number one position of world health crises, such understanding cannot be postponed any longer. It is time to mitigate and reverse the widening ripple of often generational transmission of mental illness and its devastating long term effects.
Tom’s book, A Legacy of Darkness, takes on this challenge.