The Last of the Lunatics

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Melbourne University Press, 1998 - Biography & Autobiography - 175 pages

John Cawte looks back in amazement to his years as a young doctor in an Australian madhouse. He now recognises the people he treated in the early 1950s as 'the last of the lunatics'.

Anti-psychotic and anti-depressant drugs were unknown. Bursting asylums, housing an uproar of insanity, were wastelands of stigma and dread. 'Management' techniques ranged from straitjackets and padded cells to isolation and primitive shock treatments.

Miraculously, Cawte's case notes were saved from destruction. Rereading them after forty years, he was gripped by the horror they revealed and the questions they raised. Much has changed for the better. Many of the fearful illnesses he recorded have disappeared, treatments are vastly more effective and stigma has lessened. But his notes hold a surprising and challenging lesson--that temporary 'asylum' from the stresses of life is often all that a disturbed person needs for recovery.

The Last of the Lunatics is rich and moving. The personal stories recorded by a perceptive young man have been filtered by experience and sharpened by telling literary references. Doctors, psychiatrists, those who remember and those

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About the author (1998)

Emeritus Professor John Cawte held a personal chair in psychiatry and community medicine at the University of New South Wales until 1990. He is a fellow of the national associations of psychiatrists in Australia, the UK and the United States. The latest of his five books is Healers of Arnhem Land (1996). He is an Officer of the Order of Australia, for services to psychiatry and Aboriginal health.

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