"The Center That Cannot Hold" Book Review: Mental Health Importance

Mental health is a touchy topic and difficult to discuss casually. It involves bringing intense mental discomfort, bad memories, and emotional pain towards the center of one’s thinking. Nonetheless, this topic needs to become more normalized, as those suffering from mental disorders need to be humanized and seen less as “abnormal.”

If you’re looking to enlighten yourself on the topic of mental disorders, read The Center That Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness by Professor Elyn Saks. This memoir follows Elyn from the beginning signs of her schizophrenia to her learning how to live with this condition. Although this book is specific to discussing schizophrenia, there are schemas and coping techniques common among a majority of those who suffer from a mental illness. Furthermore, Elyn discusses the problems of mental health care in the United States from her own personal and academic experience. (As someone who studies psychology and also suffers from mental disorders with many friends who have mental conditions, I am pretty versed on this subject, too.)

One general, common schema is having a negative outlook on the world, including but not limited to yourself and strangers. Another common perception is to negatively attribute situations. For example, instead of taking a professor’s comment of “good” as great feedback, you believe that there was something you could’ve done better to receive a “great.” However, receiving good back on an essay while attending a prestigious university can mean earning an A, which is already great! These outlooks on the world are very common in patients with mental disorders, but it is key to remember that each disorder and each person are still extremely unique. In The Center That Cannot Hold, Elyn truly sheds light upon these thoughts and the story and reasoning behind them. Even though the reasoning may seem illogical and obviously incorrect, there is basis and truth to these thoughts in the reality of those who are thinking them.

Furthermore, Elyn does an amazing job displaying the ways people cope with mental disorders and the strong, negative influence mental health has on our coping skills. Throughout the majority of the book, Elyn fights the need for herself to take medication in order to control her psychosis. Her parents and a rehab center primed her to believe that anything is possible as long as you try and work hard enough. “Mind over body” is the common cliché we hear when someone is struggling to accomplish their goals, but as Elyn put it, ‘what if your mind is what you have to overcome?’ What is over the mind? Body over mind? Can you overcome your psyche by controlling your body more? Well, the answer seems to be yes, to an extent. Elyn was not able to control her psychosis without medication. She needed intensive psychotherapy with medication to truly control her mind.

This book really touched my heart. Elyn covers the progression of her disorder, how she coped with it and her environmental influences. Not every case is similar or even close to hers, but those who suffer from any mental illness could understand and relate to her. She also covers mental health patients’ rights as a human and the horrible situations she had to endure due to the mental health stigma in the United States. This book is an amazing read, not only to understand mental health more, but too see mental health through the eyes of someone diagnosed.

Here is a link to her book on Amazon for as low as $5. If you do not have time to read her book, Elyn also has a TED Talk, which questions the legal rights of mental health patients and how we can further humanize them. After all, we don’t restrain people with heart attacks from attacking people, and we don’t force medication down a diabetes patient’s throat; so, why would we do this to those suffering from mental health illnesses. As someone diagnosed, I would recommend reading this book if you know or are someone diagnosed. Even if you are neither, you should give it a read.