Book Launch for Neil Gong’s Sons, Daughters, and Sidewalk Psychotics

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UCSD Sociology Professor Neil Gong presents his new book, Sons, Daughters, and Sidewalk Psychotics, at a free, open-to-the-public book launch at the San Diego Central Library @ Joan Λ Irwin Jacobs Common. In the book, Gong traces the divide between the haves and have-nots in the psychiatric treatment systems that shape the trajectories of people living with serious mental illness. Neil will be in conversation with award-winning Los Angeles Times staff writer Thomas Curwen. Afer the presentation, there will be a Q&A for the audience and a book signing. Proceeds support the San Diego Public Library System.

About the Book:

In 2022, Los Angeles became the US county with the largest population of unhoused people, drawing a stark contrast with the wealth on display in its opulent neighborhoods. In Sons, Daughters, and Sidewalk Psychotics, sociologist Neil Gong traces the divide between the haves and have-nots in the psychiatric treatment systems that shape the trajectories of people living with serious mental illness. In Downtown Los Angeles, many people in psychiatric crisis only receive help after experiencing homelessness or arrests. Public providers engage in guerrilla social work to secure them housing and safety, but these programs are rarely able to deliver true rehabilitation for psychological distress and addiction. Patients are free to refuse treatment or use illegal drugs — so long as they do so away from public view. Across town in West LA or Malibu, wealthy people diagnosed with serious mental illness attend luxurious treatment centers. Programs may offer yoga and organic meals alongside personalized therapeutic treatments, but patients can feel trapped as their families pay exorbitantly to surveil and fix” them. Meanwhile, middle-class families — stymied by private insurers, unable to afford elite providers, and yet not poor enough to qualify for social services — struggle to find care. Examining this divergent treatment of people facing similar mental struggles, Gong’s findings raise uncomfortable questions about urban policy, family dynamics, and what it means to respect individual freedom. At a time when many voters merely want streets cleared of problem people,” Gong’s book helps us imagine a fundamentally different psychiatric system — one that will meet the needs of patients, families, and society at large.

About the Author

Neil Gong is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego. He is co-editor, with Corey Abramson, of Beyond the Case: The Logics and Practices of Comparative Ethnography. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the Atlantic, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

About the Moderator: 

Thomas Curwen is an award-winning staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, where he has worked as editor of the Outdoors section, deputy editor of the Book Review, and an editor at large for features. In 2023, his story about a young man’s 10-year struggle with schizophrenia won a Sigma Delta Chi Award and Bronze Medallion from the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2020, he received the Meyer Berger Award from Columbia Journalism School for distinguished human interest reporting for a series of stories that followed eight homeless encampment residents into housing in South Los Angeles. In 2016, he was part of the team of Times reporters who won a Pulitzer for their work covering a terrorist attack in San Bernardino. He has received a Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for mental health journalism and was honored by the Academy of American Poets.