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Ashleigh Squire is studying Intercalated BA in
Medical Humanities at the University of Bristol.
A tube strike and a bomb scare hardly
provided a promising start for a successful but despite various
setbacks, the day was exciting, thought-provoking and fun.
The event was entitled “The Art of Psychiatry”
and after an introduction by Dinesh Bhugra, conference speakers
ranged from the artist Gemma Anderson and the writer Will Self, to
Ruby Wax and Judith Owens who both performed their two-women
stand-up/musical comedy show, Losing It. Losing
It is Wax’s commentary on her own mental illness and how her
desire to become famous was her ‘downfall’. She has controversially
claimed that the desire to become famous is an illness in itself,
and describes her own experience of this, whilst musing about our
ambitious human nature and how we are always looking for
something that we never quite find. This was interspersed with
haunting yet humorous songs from Judith Owen. Both comical and
moving, the performance was very entertaining – a perfect example
of the different perspective the arts bring to psychiatry.
Gemma Anderson’s artworks were
beautifully intricate and delicate etchings of psychiatrists and
patients from psychiatric hospitals in South London. The prints
were not labelled, meaning that psychiatrists were
indistinguishable from their patients, highlighting the
universality of mental ill-health. She interviewed each person
and the portraits incorporated representations of objects that
carried meanings for the subject, together with medicinal herbs
used in psychiatric medications.
Another well-known and respected guest was
writer Will Self, who began his career writing fiction and has
recently published a ‘fictionalised memoir’. Self’s readings
discussed his own experiences of mental illness and theories of
psychiatry as social control, ideas shared by Michel Foucault and
R.D Laing. The day was rounded off with a plenary chaired by Dr Tim
McInerny, involving some of the day’s contributors, including the
playwright, Nell Leyshon. Three members of Nell’s creative writing
group for service users performed some of their own fantastic
poetry, providing powerful and emotive accounts of anger, suicide
and hope. A common theme resounded throughout: that patients need
to be heard. The arts, be they poetry, film, graphic novels or
music can aid both patients and doctors in addressing this need.
They can help patients cope with their illness and help us as
professionals to begin to understand their experiences.
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