Bebe Moore Campbell’s 72 Hour Hold is a fictional book about a mother grappling with her daughter’s severe mental illness (bipolar disorder) and her trials of obtaining treatment through a woefully inadequate mental health care system. It is written with such compassion, force and insight, the reader cannot help but wonder if some parts of this fictional novel are inspired by the author’s personal experience, and, in fact, they are. The author was one of the founding members of the National Alliance for Mental Illness branch in Inglewood CA (which later expanded to Urban LA NAMI), and, in the past, has publicly stated that the book was inspired by her experience of having a close family member with bipolar disorder.

The story is told in the voice of its heroine Keri Whitmore, a loving mother desperate to help her daughter, Trina. Keri is grieving the loss of her relationship with Trina as she knew it and Trina’s future as she had hoped it to be. The author’s gripping, frank language takes the reader through the waves of fear, guilt and hopelessness so often experienced by family members of those with severe mental illness in a manner that elicits respect, understanding and admiration.

Through Keri’s story, the reader learns of the need for the caregiver to be supported, and the added barriers those in the black community may face because of stigma surrounding mental illness, mistrust in medical institutions and cultural mores that place a premium on keeping family problems at home. Her daughter, Trina, is either manic or high on drugs the majority of the book, and it is only through the mother’s recollections that the reader learns of the promising future that Trina’s mental illness wrested from her as she was on the brink of adulthood. The loss is profound and illustrates the power of mental illness to utterly derail a young person’s plans for the future. Despite Keri and Trina’s many challenges, Bebe Moore Campbell’s characters find a way of working toward recovery in spite of them.

The perspective lent by this work will prove helpful to people who have family members with mental illness and healthcare providers who often are not only entrusted with the care of their patients, but that of patients’ families also.