A review by morgan_blackledge
Nobody's Normal: How Culture Created the Stigma of Mental Illness, by Roy Richard Grinker


I honestly can’t get over how mind expanding this book was for me.

It’s at the very top of my list this year.

Nobodies Normal is anthropologist Richard Grinker‘s multi pronged historical deconstruction of stigma and normativity related to mental health.

Grinker asserts that the word normal is essentially a statistical term of art, and technically refers to segments of populations, not to specific qualities of individual bodies and behaviors.

Normal was only applied in its current popular usage e.g. as a standard for individual human form and functionality in the mid 20th century.

Normal is a very western construct. Which is not to say other cultures don’t stigmatize aspects of human presentation. They definitely do. Just not in the same ‘statistically derived’ way.

Grinker, also discusses how the forces of capitalism have shaped constructs of normalcy and stigma regarding mental health.

Grinker posits that, as western economies transitioned from agrarian to industrial, an individual’s ability (or inability) to participate in the labor force was the important dividing line between being ‘normal’ and defective.

Think Britny Spears.

As long as she can get her shit together and do her ‘Pieces of Me’ show. She’s fine. But when her “mental health issues“ interfere with her ability to perform (think 2007 VMA’s) well then we have to get conservatorship.

This is not to say that she doesn’t have very real mental health issues, only that the normative standard is very linked to her ability to work.

In a different time, and in a different place, and under different socioeconomic circumstances, our standards and tolerances for Britney’s behavior would certainly be very different.

A seemingly obvious but important point nonetheless.


Grinker also discusses the influence of war on mental health diagnosis and treatment.

Grinker posits that WWI, WWII, Viet Nam, and the Gulf Wars have all left their mark on mental Heath care.

Specifically in regard to disorders involving traumatic exposure. Again, the soldiers ability to continue in the fight, and their potential burden to the VA have been major influences on the way we currently conceptualize, evaluate, diagnosis and treat trauma.

I say currently, because essentially all of our conceptualizations, psychometrics, diagnostics and treatments have changed dramatically over time, largely based on economics, culture and current events, and are inevitably going to continue to do so in the future.

This is not necessarily a good or bad thing.

But simply the way it is.

Some of the more profound points Grinker makes emerge from comparisons of different cultures attitudes, standards and and tolerances regarding mental health and neuro-diversity.

There’s far too much interesting shit in this book to discuss in this venue.

Suffice it to say.

Nobodies Normal is WAY fucking good!

There were issues covered in this text that caught me utterly flat footed. Ideas, observations and perspectives that I have simply never considered.

In the end, I’m emerging from this text with many banal assumptions challenged, with far les fixed and rigid ideas about mental health, and with a significantly enhanced understanding of the powerful role culture plays in psychology and psychiatry.

In the tradition of Eric Fromm, Michele Foucault and Derald Wing Sue, this is psychological anthropology at it’s very best.

If you think you don’t need this in your life.

You’re wrong.