> Skip to content

Bestselling ‘immersion’ journalist Norah Vincent takes on the mental health system – but when she gets sectioned she discovers that she’s not just there to report, she’s there to be cured

Norah Vincent has always suffered from depression but at the end of a book project that required her to spend eighteen months disguised as a man she felt that she was a danger to herself and was committed to a ‘loony bin’. As a result of this traumatic experience Norah came out resolved to go back undercover to report on a range of mental institutions – three difficult, pressurized and very different environments – and to experience first hand their effect on the body and mind.
Her journey starts in a huge inner city hospital where most patients are ‘repeats’, often poor and dispossessed. There Norah confronts the boredom and babbling of an underfunded facility: a place where medication is a process of containment: its purpose to make life easier for the rest of us, not the patients themselves. Cut to the calming green carpet of St Lukes: plenty of ‘loonies’ here too of course but Norah is taken aback when her doctor allows her to reduce her medication, have a room of her own and a regular jog in the park. Th


A worthwhile and surprisingly easy read for anyone interested in mental illness... Few journalists now leave their desks in search of a story. Vincent reminds us that there is a (locked, secret) world beyond our office windows and internet search engines

Financial Times

The writing is tight, funny and butch, a jabbering world of "docs" and "meds", and full of brilliant observations - the patients who lean towards the therapist, for example, in an attempt to get high on a whiff of her marker pen. There are some interesting personal revelations, too. [...] a fascinating journey. A sex change and now madness - one can't help wondering what she will do next

Sunday Times

The originality of Voluntary Madness lies in the fact that Vincent is reporting from inside the system at its three cardinal levels: a hard-core public institution, a more congenial private equivalent, and an intensively personalised therapeutic realm. As near as is possible in a single account, this presents the full spectrum of psychiatry in operation

Blake Morrison, Guardian

Vincent's a skilled, witty and honest observer, particularly of her fellow patients

The List

Her account veers sharply into a dissection of her own mental health problems but she asks pertinent questions about whether locking people up really helps


Top marks to Vincent for having the guts to pull off her scheme

Colin Waters, Sunday Herald

The writing is tight and funny ... and full of brilliant observations

Camilla Long, Sunday Times

Her immersive approach to her subject matter allows a lot of insight that wouldn't be possible with a more traditional, objective style of journalism and this is what makes her book work...Voluntary Madness is a very personal account of what it's like to be committed... it's worth a read


A brave and compelling book

Simon Shaw, Mail on Sunday

Read More

Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    March 1, 2010


    304 pages

    RRP $19.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    September 1, 2010

    Vintage Digital

    304 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks
    • Amazon Kindle
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks
    • Google Play
    • Kobo

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au


Lean In
Rising Strong
The Twits
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory: A Play
Elon Musk
Finding My Virginity
Life on Air
The Noonday Demon
Ma, I've Got Meself Locked Up in the Mad House
The Hare With Amber Eyes
Man, Interrupted
The Light Between Us
Carry Me Home
For the Love of Horses
My Life as a Side Effect
Littlejohn's Lost World
Under a Mackerel Sky