A First-Rate Madness

 “Our greatest crisis leaders toil in sadness when society is happy. Yet when calamity occurs, if they are in a position to act, they can help lift the rest of us.”  Nassir Ghaemi, A First-Rate Madness

First Rate

I heard about A First-Rate Madness watching the Colbert Report, an excellent resource for the latest in book offerings.  Nassir Ghaemi has an interesting take on mental illness – those with mood disorders make the best leaders in times of crisis. The very next day, I checked out the public library to see if A First-Rate Madness was on the shelves. It was on order – and in audio, which is always my preferred format. In early spring I received notification that the audio book was ready for pickup. I’ve been on the road with A First-Rate Madness for the last two weeks.

Nassir Ghaemi has impeccable credentials. He is Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston where he is responsible for the Mood Disorders Program. He teaches at Cambridge Health Alliance and is a Clinical Lecturer at Harvard Medical School.  Employing the latest psychiatric research, he analyzes historical evidence to support his premise. While his thesis is controversial, he is forceful and persuasive in his presentation. He discusses four qualities – realism, empathy, resilience, and creativity. Those that have a mental illness are better equipped to handle crisis based on their abilities in these four areas. For example, people who suffer from depression have a superior capacity to assess and identify existing threats and potential outcomes. They see reality for what it really is, without positive embellishments that can cloud decision-making.

A First-Rate Madness was a page turner. The argument that in times of crisis insanity, rather than sanity, produces good results is a worthy starting point for a robust discussion. And he speaks of people that we know and respect: Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lincoln and JFK.

What are my takeaways?

1)    Mental health versus mental illness is a complex discussion.

2)    The stigma of mental illness is devastating.

3)    A respectful exchange of ideas will give greater insight into the area of human behaviour.

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