Profile: Kay Redfield Jamison; November 1995; Scientific American Magazine; by Leutwyler; 2 Page(s)
Kay Redfield Jamison's musical voice sounds above the din in the midtown Manhattan restaurant where we are eating lunch. It is the confident voice of a seasoned lecturer. But Jamison, a professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is not at this moment setting forth the symptoms of manic-depressive illness, her area of expertise. Instead she is telling me about the reactions to her latest book. It is, to be certain, quite different from what she has published in the past. In 1990 Jamison co-authored Manic- Depressive Illness, considered the definitive clinical text, and in 1993 wrote Touched with Fire, a look at the disease's influence on great artists. Her new offering, An Unquiet Mind, describes manic- depression from another vantage altogether: her own.
Jamison was diagnosed with the illness some 20 years ago but only now has found the conviction--and, more important, time away from her intense schedule-- to write about it. "Basically, people have been very supportive," she says, nodding her head as though she is still trying to decide. "But you are not aware of the people who aren't saying anything. So you're sort of left at the mercy of what other people's opinions of the disease are." It is, as she well knows, an illness that frightens many, conjuring up bleak images of locked psychiatric wards. It is also strongly genetic, running through families and too often stigmatizing affected and unaffected members alike. Left untreated, manicdepressive illness precipitates violent, psychotic manias and black suicidal depressions. Yet, as Jamison can testify, the disease is highly treatable. Lithium and psychotherapy have ably secured her life and sanity for many years.