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Seventeen Voices

Life and wisdom 

from inside ‘mental illness’


We know what the words 'mental illness' mean to psychiatrists or doctors. But who are the real experts? This book bring 'mental illness' to life from the inside out. It gives an intensely personal and authentic insight into the experiences, wisdom, understanding and opinions of those who have been labelled as 'mentally ill'.


This book offers solace and encouragement to those who suffer, but also seeks to step beyond the wall of stigma, stereotypes and misconceptions that surrounds so much of discussion and discourse on 'mental illness', and give voice to its very human face.

This book contains seventeen interviews with people ranging in age from 20 to 74. It covers many topics: views on the nature of 'mental illness', therapy, drug use, psychiatry, schizophrenia, OCD, bi-polar disorder, dissociative identity disorder, anxiety disorder, bereavement, depression, spirituality, Aboriginality, suicide, self-harm, alcoholism, homelessness, crime, violence, AIDS ...

"Not only family members but all mental health professionals should read this revealing account of what is like to be in our mental health system."


– Dr Jon Jureidini -

Head, Dept Psychological Medicine, Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Adelaide.

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The seventeen voices speak ...


"People need to listen to our stories, listen to our points of view and have a different understanding of mental illness … I’ve often said that mental illness is a condition of society."

- Sarah -

"The media portray the 'mentally ill' as violent. But the truth is that we'd much rather kill ourselves than anybody else. I apologise to an ant or a spider if I kill it. I don't want to hurt anybody or anything." 

- Linda -

"It’s not about diagnoses that separate you from everything you know. It’s not about isolating people even further than they already feel. At the clinic I hear people talking about integrating people with ‘mental illness’ into society, but by definition of what they have done, they have made that impossible. They label you as ‘mentally ill’, and then push you back into a society that thinks, ‘Oh my god, "mental illness"!’ "

- Cheryl -

"My discovery that many of the great spiritual writers – including Mother Teresa of Calcutta – say that suffering is a gift was a great joy to me … it hit me between the eyes! It makes it so much easier to accept the road that I’ve travelled down. Suffering can seem to be so negative yet it can, if we allow it, produce in our Being the positive gift of compassion. Compassion doesn’t come out of thin air."

- John -


Seventeen Voices: Life and wisdom from inside 'mental illness' is available from various on-line sources and Wakefield Press.

In addition, the book can also be purchased within Australia directly from Marianne Broug. Price is $30.00, which includes postage and handling. Please contact Marianne through the contact form and you will be notified of payment details

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Reviews  ...

­­­­Independent Weekly - Indaily news bulletin

Book review - Seventeen Voices, Marianne Broug



Mental illness, is the most prevalent, yet least understood disability afflicting society. Regrettably, it stills carries with it a stigma, especially here in Australia, where we lag, again, behind many other Western countries in both our understanding of, and lack of compassion toward, the multifarious symptoms of the affliction and those enduring it.

Marianne Broug has compiled a volume of interesting stories, drawn from a mixed bag of 17 people with differing mental illnesses and experiences. Broug interviews with a compassionate dignity and personal understanding, affording the interviewees the opportunity to educate readers about the stereotypes and endemic misconceptions of their individual disabilities. The end result is a series of illuminating conversations which are readable, intimate and thought provoking – one would hope. Although the book will be read by mental health sufferers and their loved ones, in a perfect world, it would reach a broader audience.

The commonalities of the interviewees are particularly interesting: there is a prevailing thread of childhood trauma, with creativity and the arts being an important part of self-validation and the negative impact of the mainstream media and the warped perfection it portrays influencing their mindset.

Most striking is the positive terminology some of the interviewees use regarding their suffering. It creates a deeper connection with readers enduring similar circumstances while opening the gift of compassion. The broader community, if only it ceased its morbid self-obsession and listened a moment, might possibly learn something from this latest release on the topic. Wakefield Press RRP $34.95


Seventeen Voices Review

Kathy Inverarity BSW, Grad Dip Parent Counselling & Child Devt., MAASW.

 “I felt it was my job simply to listen, to be utterly present, to stay out of the way as much as possible and to only ask for clarification if I felt it was needed. Quite beyond my expectations, people shared with me their histories and memories, their innermost thoughts and feelings, their healing. They shared their lives and their dignity. Many told me there was much that they had talked about for the first time for the book.  In the course of the interviews I came to feel privileged and deeply humbled.”

Marianne Broug in her Introduction to Seventeen Voices Life and wisdom from inside ‘mental illness’ Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 2008.

Marianne Broug has done what many social workers, therapists and “listeners” say they would like to do when they eventually take time out from working with people in distress; to tell the many stories they have heard in a way that goes beyond stereotypes, diagnostic labels and clichéd summaries. Not a therapist but a musician by training, Marianne has carried through with this goal and written a wonderful book.

Although she tells us she has some experiences of emotional turmoil in common with her interviewees, her ability to form the rapport which elicits these painfully honest accounts must come from something other than just shared perspective.

Admirable is her gift for letting people tell their own stories. Consistently she uses a format that enables us to identify with their many and varied experiences and their struggles to make their own sense of these. For example, Coralie’s life-long struggle with her desire to kill herself is one of the most credible accounts I have ever read of chronic suicidal ideation. The inadequacies of a mental health crisis ‘phone service to deal adequately with such a problem is contrasted with the steadying influence of a long-term therapist or perceptive friend who is willing and able to take a risk or two on the strength of a relationship.

There are several important themes that recur in different variants within the seventeen interviews. These are cited as “points of agreement” in Appendix B of the book.

One is the assertion that “mental illness” arises out of trauma, often childhood abuse or severe difficulty during one or several periods of life. Emotional breakdown does not seize on its victim “out of the blue” like SARS or a ‘flu virus, however much it may feel that way initially to many sufferers. Its antecedents and catalysts are there in each person’s life story if we can spare the time to listen before recommending the standard treatment.

One interviewee finds that from her experience of the mental health service “there is a big taboo in declaring that your parents played a large part in the creation of your so-called ‘mental illness’.” She identifies that one of the important unintended side effects of moving to the paradigm of “illness” to replace “madness or badness” is that mental “illness” still carries with it the assumptions of random inexplicability rather than a condition which has clear antecedents. In striving to remove an attitude of “blame” towards parents, mental health professionals risk discounting the pervasive influence of parental input and in doing so, tend to also discount the positive role that good parenting plays in ameliorating mental health problems.

The idea of recognising “warning signs” is now commonly used in contemporary mental health education.  When these warning signs, previously dealt with only as symptoms by the treating clinician, are recognised and understood, the suffering individual can manage abrupt trauma or an accumulation of stress in an autonomous and hence empowering way.

Not that this can be achieved without pain and suffering. But many interviewees agree that “depression is a learning experience” and “suffering is sometimes a gift”. One of them, Meg, sees herself as having learnt and benefited from suffering concluding that “If I hadn’t been through these terrible experiences I wouldn’t be the person I am now.”

The importance of finding expression for creativity is mentioned as part of healing and of establishing a new identity separate from trauma and chronic dysfunction. Art and music as therapy, creativity expressed through friendship and support to try new and different ways of being are cited as being as important as medication and outpatient appointments.

For social workers and indeed all mental health professionals, I think a major message to take from this book is to retain our focus on the individuality of each person we come in contact with, being always aware of their unique experience, and making absolutely no assumptions as Marianne Broug has demonstrated so perceptively. This book is recommended reading for anyone who aspires to be therapeutic in their interactions, no matter how long they may have worked in the field of mental health, and is also a good read for students starting out on that journey.

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