Book Review: Surrounded by Madness: A Memoir of Mentall Illness and Family Secrets, Rachel Pruchno, Ph.D.

Surrounded by Madness Cover


Summary from

“”What was the likelihood my adopted daughter would have my father’s hazel eyes and my mother’s mental illness?”

In this fiercely candid memoir, Dr. Pruchno, a scientist widely acclaimed for her research on mental illness and families, shows how mental illness threatened to destroy her own family. Not once, but twice.

As a child, she didn’t understand her mother’s episodes of crippling sadness or whirlwind activity. As a mother, she feared her daughter Sophie would follow in the footsteps of the grandmother Sophie never knew.

Unraveling the mysteries of her mother’s and daughter’s illnesses, Pruchno fought to preserve her marriage and protect her son. But it was not until she came to terms with her own secrets that she truly understood the destructive and pervasive effects mental illness has on families.

Surrounded By Madness is transforming. It will empower families to stop hiding and start talking when mental illness strikes.”

A secret can be either one’s doing or undoing, a secret can bring someone to the forefront, make them famous, or even keep them in the limelight once there – sometimes that very secret can also be their undoing.  We’ve seen it a hundred times over in Hollywood where addiction has become the very undoing of the fabric of a stars’ success – then again sometimes they take that struggle and addiction and turn it around to become more than they once were.  However, the one secret we rarely hear about floating around Hollywood is Mental Illness.  Why is it the one thing that more people suffer from is the one thing we as a society are either ill-fit or unwilling to discuss?  Our mental health system used to include locking up those with some form of mental illness for something as seemingly minor as clinical depression or something as severe as schizophrenia.  Now a days though in order for someone with mental illness to get the very treatment they need they have to be cognizant enough to ask for the help – however, sometimes they do not possess this level of cognizance to ask or seek out the help they need – so they are left to their own devices, especially if that person is an adult.  In minor children it’s easier to get them the help they need – sometimes – let me add and addendum here stating that sometimes it’s near impossible to get the medical community to admit a child might, just might, have some sort of mental illness outside of the autism spectrum.

As a parent Rachel found that the road to figuring out what was ‘wrong’ with her otherwise free-spirited child was a road wrought with peril, ups and downs and many many downfalls on Sophie’s part before someone finally admitted she might need help outside of just ADHD Medications.  Sometimes mental illness can be mis-diagnosed and in Sophie’s case Rachel found that to be true.  It was discovered that what they thought was ADHD was more along the lines of Bi-Polar and Personality disorders…a scary thought for a parent of a teenager.  She and her husband made the decision to adopt after their attempts to conceive were futile, in the end she thought that decision would help them avoid some of the demons she witnessed her own mother battle with and ultimately lose the battle.

This memoir was well written, the reader is taken on the journey with Rachel and her family, in the end the reader feels for Rachel and her family.  They just want to wrap them up in a protective cocoon and prevent anymore struggle and trouble from befalling them.  As a parent myself of two children with ADHD, one of which is exhibiting signs similar to what we read about in Sophie I can only image the level of struggle we may encounter in the future with my child – I can only pray they don’t come under that umbrella of severe mental illness.  This book took us on the journey of struggle, endearment, and ultimate separation of family and left us hoping beyond hope that Sophie finds her way in the world and is ok. I believe like Rachel has stated its time to break the silence about mental illness, bring it to the forefront and face it head on…otherwise others like Sophie will fall through the cracks.

**I received a copy of this book from the author’s publisher in exchange for an honest review**

About the Author:

Dr. Pruchno is Director of Research at the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging, and Endowed Professor of Medicine at Rowan University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine. Prior positions include Director, Initiatives on Aging,Boston College; Director, Center on Aging, Bradley University; Director of Research, Menorah Park; Associate Director of Research, Philadelphia Geriatric Center.

She earned her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State University (1982), M.A. from Oakland University (1979), and B.A. from Michigan State University (1976).

Dr. Pruchno is the Editor-in-Chief of The Gerontologist. She has served on the Editorial Boards of the International Journal of Aging & Human Development and Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences. She has been a member of two standing NIH study sections (Mental Disorders of Aging (MDA), NIMH; Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes Study Section (SPIP)) and is a frequent ad hoc NIH reviewer.

Dr. Pruchno has been the Principal Investigator on NIH-funded grants totaling close to $7 million as well as foundation grants of more than $3 million. She has published more than 70 peer-reviewed articles, 10 book chapters, and an edited book, Challenges of an aging society: Ethical dilemmas, political issues.

Get your Copy of Surrounded by Madness from

Connect with Rachel Pruchno, Ph.D. via her Website

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Surrounded by Madness: A Memoir of Mentall Illness and Family Secrets, Rachel Pruchno, Ph.D.

  1. Pingback: Being Stuck, The Ugly Truth, Running, Psychiatry, and Madness: Mental Health Monday | A Way With Words

  2. Very interesting. The system is so tragically far from helping children and parents with properly diagnosing and treating mental illness. It takes diligence on the part of the parents to make it happen. My daughter was 18 before I was able to get a proper diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome.

    • You are absolutely correct, Rachel and her family found that out the hard way – we are finding it out the hard way as well with our son whose been diagnosed as ADHD but show signs & symptoms of clinical depression (I have it, most of the members of my immediate family have it…it’s inevitable one of my kids would and sadly its him) and I can’t get a Dr to admit that an 11yr old might have it…the system works against parents not with them.

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