The Last Of The Lunatics


This is one of my favourite books, from a man who worked with and remembers the people who really were the last of the lunatics.

Published in 1998, John Cawte, a retired psychiatrist, tells us of psychiatry in its infancy in Australia; the attitudes from both the public and other medical professionals towards this new branch of medicine, the common practices that make us cringe in horror today and the "lunatics" themselves.

This is a fascinating read from the social, historical, medical and political aspects. The evolution of all these subjects have influenced each other as this book illustrates, from the 1950's to the present day.
The author was there, seeing these changes taking shape on an almost daily basis, with new therapies being put into practice, new medications and even just new ways of approaching a problem, patients were improving and able to function in society, families were intact, patients were gaining previously-unknown senses of self-esteem and, ultimately, pride.

The political aspect was that Australia was awash with patients suffering (and dying) from several kinds of mental illnesses, caused by vitamin and mineral deficiencies from alcoholism, that could have been easily prevented. Unfortunately every other country in the Western World had fortified its good old every day baking flour with vitamins B1 and B3...but not Australia.
Lobbying from several quarters took 20 years for a law to be finally passed.

This book would appeal to a wide range of people and is a very easy read, written, as it is, for a layperson to understand and comprehend the massive leaps that have been achieved in psychiatry in such a short time.