While You Were Out: An Intimate Family Portrait of Mental Illness in an Era of Silence (Hardcover)
From award-winning journalist Meg Kissinger, a searing memoir of a family besieged by mental illness, as well as an incisive exploration of the systems that failed them and a testament to the love that sustained them.
Growing up in the 1960s in the suburbs of Chicago, Meg Kissinger’s family seemed to live a charmed life. With eight kids and two loving parents, the Kissingers radiated a warm, boisterous energy. Whether they were spending summer days on the shores of Lake Michigan, barreling down the ski slopes, or navigating the trials of their Catholic school, the Kissingers always knew how to live large and play hard.
But behind closed doors, a harsher reality was unfolding—a heavily medicated mother hospitalized for anxiety and depression, a manic father prone to violence, and children in the throes of bipolar disorder and depression, two of whom would take their own lives. Through it all, the Kissingers faced the world with their signature dark humor and the unspoken family rule: never talk about it.
While You Were Out begins as the personal story of one family’s struggles then opens outward, as Kissinger details how childhood tragedy catalyzed a journalism career focused on exposing our country’s flawed mental health care. Combining the intimacy of memoir with the rigor of investigative reporting, the book explores the consequences of shame, the havoc of botched public policy, and the hope offered by new treatment strategies.
Powerful, candid and filled with surprising humor, this is the story of one family’s love and resilience in face of great loss.
About the Author
Meg Kissinger spent more than two decades traveling across the country to report on America’s mental health system for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A Pulitzer Prize finalist, she has won dozens of accolades, including two George Polk Awards, the Robert F. Kennedy Award, awards from Investigative Reporters and Editors, and two National Journalism Awards. Kissinger teaches investigative reporting at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and was a visiting professor at DePauw University, her alma mater. Her stories on the abysmal living conditions for people with mental illness inspired changes to Wisconsin law and led to the creation of hundreds of new housing units. She lives in Milwaukee with Larry Boynton, her husband of more than 40 years.
New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
“The raw intimacy of [Meg Kissinger’s] prose exemplifies the empathy our society so desperately needs.”
—THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
“Meg Kissinger has courageously given us a chronicle of love, loss, family and obligation, all refracted through the lens of mental illness. Here is a story as urgent and indelible as the bonds that hold its characters together. In speaking to her family’s experience she has laid bare our own collective one.”
“A startling, important book.”
—Los Angeles Times
"Meg Kissinger is a world-class reporter and a rip-roaring storyteller. Her heartfelt, eviscerating, deeply introspective investigation of long-held family secrets will leave you quaking with rage about our broken mental-health system—and grateful that writers like her are on the case."
—Robert Kolker, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Hidden Valley Road
"As a journalist, Meg Kissinger has long been shining a light on our broken mental health care system by telling the stories of people struggling with mental illness. In While You Were Out, she tells the more personal and painful narrative of the people in her own family who have struggled with mental illness. A gifted storyteller, Kissinger reminds us, in the words of her deceased brother, 'Only love and understanding can conquer this disease.' This wonderful book offers us both."
—Tom Insel, MD, Former Director of the National Institute of Mental Health
"Frank and revelatory, While You Were Out is a story of overwhelming power, chronicling the kind of American tragedy that feels both aberrant and ever-present."
—Rachel Aviv, author of Strangers to Ourselves
"Bearing witness is an act of courage. Meg Kissinger has courageously given us a chronicle of love, loss, family and obligation, all refracted through the lens of mental illness. Here is a story as urgent and indelible as the bonds that hold its characters together. In speaking to her family's experience she has laid bare our own collective one."
—Jelani Cobb, Dean of Columbia Journalism School and author of The Substance of Hope
"For years, Meg Kissinger had the mental health beat pretty much to herself. For the readers of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, she turned out one incredible story after another about the ordinary people who suffered from mental illness and addiction—and from the failure of health care institutions and local and state government to care for them. She wrote occasionally about her own family too. Now, in this gripping and poignant memoir, she has put it all together, telling the big-picture story of this country’s catastrophic inability to create anything resembling a mental health system and the impact that those failings and a ruthless illness had on her own family. If you want to understand mental health in America, this is required reading."
—Rob Waters, Founding Editor of MindSiteNews
"Meg Kissinger's memoir of a boisterous, loving, troubled family does the nearly impossible: tells a deeply personal story in the context of a nation-wide mental crisis, treating siblings and strangers with equal compassion and journalistic rigor. A beautiful, heartfelt book."
—Liz Scheier, author of Never Simple
"A smart, stirring family memoir of suicide and survival, and a bracing call for more investigative journalism on mental health and addiction."
—Patrick J. Kennedy, former Congressman (D-RI) and New York Times bestselling co-author of A Common Struggle
"More than a poignant memoir....this is an important and wise book, one which sheds light on a subject that is still surrounded by shame and silence."
—Daphne Merkin, author of the memoir This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression and the novel 22 Minutes of Unconditional Love
"Kissinger paints a singular portrait of her family’s pain and the culture of silence that exacerbated it."