Views & Reviews Medical Classics

The Ha Ha

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 20 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7812
  1. Kate Robertson, specialty doctor, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Shropshire Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, Shrewsbury SY1 3GZ, UK
  1. kate.robertson{at}

The Ha Ha captures both the joy and horror of psychosis. It has previously been held up as an indictment of the treatments and morality of psychiatry of the time and admittedly it is sometimes dated, with the references to the “new mental health act” of 1959, the narrator held in hospital under “certificate,” and patients (“schizies” one patient calls them) treated with insulin, with ECT, and with lobotomies.

But this book’s depiction of the lonely estrangement of severe mental illness has rarely been bettered. The strange and shocking treatments are not heartless, and are documented without conspicuous outrage. The staff are all quite human, and there is no sense that treatments …

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