About the podcast series

This is the first of two series of weekly podcasts to be broadcast between July 2016 and December 2017. The first series of 44 podcasts covers England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland during the last 500 years, looking at continuities and changes in how mental illness was understood and treated, and at the radical shifts in systems of caring for those who were either mad or mentally handicapped during the last two centuries. The coverage is broad, ranging from how mental problems were identified and described in the past through changing ideas about their causes and developing therapeutic practices to important themes such as the reasons behind the emergence of psychiatry as a profession and the rise and fall of asylums as a location of care. The series explores the history of suicide, madness in the media, psychiatry and the law, relations between medical practitioners and patients, and it assessing evidence that the incidence of mental illness has changed over time. It begins and ends with discussion of the value of history and the vital lessons that can be learned by studying the past.

It aims:

  • To provide a balanced and historically reliable account of the development of both medical and social understandings of madness, against a background of dramatically changing political, scientific, economic, legal, and cultural environments.
  • To inform all branches of medicine and social work about the history of one increasingly important branch of their profession: mental health.
  • To raise awareness of attitudes towards mental health and the care of those suffering from mental disorders or disabilities, not only among the caring professions, but also the general public, including sufferers and those close to them.
  • To bring to the fore the significance of a knowledge of history to the makers of policy on social welfare, through an exploration of what lay and professional people did to help the mad over the last five centuries. History provides concrete questions, comparisons, and alternatives, and helps us to arrive at workable solutions.

The second series of 26 podcasts will start broadcasting early in 2017. It is entitled ‘The voice of the mad in Britain from the Renaissance to the present day’. It uses extracts from the autograph writings of those with mental problems or from their reported speech, to explore a range of mental disorders ranging from autism and depression to schizophrenia and obsessive stalking. Through transcribed original historical manuscripts and printed sources, the series documents individual, family, and social crises related to mental disorders, including suicide, crimes of violence, protection of vulnerable adults, religious mania, and admission to lunatic asylums and the experience of living in them. The aim is twofold. First, to give a sense of what it was like for sufferers to cope with being mad or being thought mad. Second, to show how those who came into contact with mad people coped in their turn with words, moods, and acts, which they struggled to understand.

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