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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Interview with Dr Gregory Shields

 

 

 

Dr Greg Shields is a psychiatry trainee in the South London and Maudsley Trust. He is also a musician and his band ‘Conundrum In Deed’ have just released their first album, ‘Gentlemen’.

The album was launched at Brixton Jamm on July 27th, proceeds from which were contributed to the mental health charity ‘Rethink’. He spoke to me about music, mental health and the mind-bending challenge of finding a band name.

 

Dr Greg Shields


JT: You work in psychiatry and are also a musician. Can you tell us a little about the challenges of this, and also any potential advantages?

GS: There is great benefit in having a creative outlet alongside a career like psychiatry, which can be very draining on our emotional well-being. In some ways music (and any creative pursuit) is a reprieve from work, but I also think that it provides a way for us to work through our experiences and come to terms with them through the creative process. A lot of my music is inspired by my interaction with mentally ill and eccentric people, and I think the process of transforming those experiences into music shapes how I view those interactions subsequently.

The main challenges are logistical ones: managing a band, rehearsals, and regular practice around busy work and exam schedules. Sometimes it feels like music has become another job.

 

JT: What is your view on the role of music in mental health? 

GS: So many of my patients use music as a means to regulate their emotions, calm themselves down, and relieve distress. It's a form of mindfulness. We also identify deeply with the concepts and emotions expressed in music: our music choices reflect our own emotional state and serve to validate our feelings. A song may be the only indication that our distress is felt by others, that we are not alone in being sad or angry. 

 

JT: Should we be doing more as mental health professionals to provide access to music and music therapy to service users?

GS: Absolutely. I often ask patients if they would like access to music, and arrange with relatives to provide some sort of player. To be honest I don't know enough about music therapy to recommend it, but I would love to try it myself!

 

Your band is called ‘Conundrum In Deed’. Tell us a little about your band and the inspiration for the name.

We are heavily influenced by jazz, 70s progressive rock, psychedelia, and folk, combining melodic instrumentals with poetic and surreal lyrics. The process of choosing a band name was indeed a conundrum, and the name reflects what the music is about: a celebration of the beautiful strangeness of humanity. Perhaps the name is as fundamentally inexplicable as human nature itself.

 

You contributed proceeds from your album launch to the mental health charity ‘Rethink’. Why have you chosen this particular charity?

I have great respect for the work they do around stigma. The 'Time to Change' campaign is particularly inspiring. Together with Mind, they provide a great deal of support for patients and relatives that is not covered by increasingly stretched NHS services.

 

You have selected David Bowie's ‘All The Madmen’ as having particular relevance to mental health. Can you explain why?

I admit it’s an obvious choice, but it has themes that influenced me in my teens and continues to have relevance now. For me, it raises the subjectivity of normalcy and questions the definition of some deviant behaviours as madness, and others as socially acceptable. It's also a reminder that the psychiatric paradigm of providing care for illness often results in coercive treatments in less-than-therapeutic environments. Finally, the chorus resonates strongly with my own preferences: 'I'd rather stay here with all the madmen, than perish with the sad men roaming free'.

 

 

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Minds in Music

Minds in Music

 
     
  John Tully  
 

@MindsinMusic

Dr John Tully is a forensic psychiatrist and researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, London. He is also a musician and is interested in the role of the arts in mental health.