It may be surprising to learn that serious mental illness—such as schizophrenia, bipolar disease and severe depression—afflicts about one in 20 Americans. Some of us have encountered these conditions in the experience of family members. Others see it routinely on display on city streets. By now, as Thomas Insel notes in “Healing: Our Path From Mental Illness to Mental Health,” we know much about the brain and about the ways in which it can malfunction. Yet the outcomes for people treated for serious mental illness are often poor, he says. Why?

A psychiatrist and neuroscientist who headed the National Institute of Mental Health in 2002-15 and has since returned to the private sector, Dr. Insel is well-positioned to answer the question. In “Healing,” he outlines the treatments that currently exist, describes the obstacles that many people face, and shows how care programs might be designed to work better. The core of his argument is quickly grasped: “We’re not taking advantage of the science we have.”


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