Upstairs in the Crazy House: The Life of a Psychiatric Survivor


208 pages
ISBN 0-670-83898-5
DDC 616.89'0092





Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is an editor in the College Division of Nelson Canada.


This is an unsentimental but affecting account by mental-health–care
activist Pat Capponi of her years—first as a resident, then as an
administrator—at Channan Court, a boarding house for ex-psychiatric
patients in Toronto’s Parkdale. Since leaving Channan Court, Capponi
has campaigned tirelessly to mitigate and bring to public attention the
isolation and poverty that awaits discharged (and wholly unprepared)
psychiatric patients who lack adequate support systems. The appalling
squalor Capponi and her fellow residents endured at Channan
Court—which she depicts vividly and without a trace of
self-pity—was, and is, not the exception but the norm.

Consistent with her activist goals, Capponi refuses to take centre
stage in her own drama. Apart from nightmarish flashbacks involving her
“unspeakably” abusive father, her personal history plays a secondary
role to the grim and desperate lives of her fellow inmates. Thankfully,
she declines to romanticize them, or to hide the revulsion they would
often inspire in her—a revulsion that could not, of course, be
detached from her (and their) deplorable circumstances.

While not in the same league as Kate Millett’s literary powerhouse
The Loony-Bin Trip, Capponi’s is an important book—well written,
compassionate, unsparing in its honesty. June Callwood’s introduction
is capable and informative. The book is dedicated to the author’s
Channan Court family, “some of whom survived, some of whom could


Capponi, Pat., “Upstairs in the Crazy House: The Life of a Psychiatric Survivor,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,