Mental Health Awareness Week

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This week, May 8th – 14th, is Mental Health Awareness Week.  In this blog post, Rab explains how the podcast series has aimed to help increase awareness of mental health issues by exploring the past and connecting with the present.

My series of podcasts show the many different ways British and Irish people have sought to understand and deal with mental disorders over half a millennium – the successes, failures, and dead ends that have characterised all human efforts to understand and improve their condition. I try to bring out the rich variety of perspectives there were on mind and body, and the array of familiar and peculiar responses adopted by individuals, communities, and governments, towards the care of those with mental problems. I talk about medical issues, but I am a social historian who cares about people and I have tried to show the influence that culture has on mental illness and mental health treatment.

From many perspectives and using a wealth of real-life examples, I explore where we have been and where we might go, in raising awareness of mental health issues and in mapping a better pathway to the future for sufferers and healers alike. Because they range over so many different contexts and include perspectives from multiple disciplines, I believe the podcasts offer a uniquely humane perspective on science, society, and welfare, past and present. They are a resource not only for medical professionals, but also for sufferers, their families, and anyone who wants to understand our changing perception and handling of the world’s fastest growing health condition.

The people of the past knew as well as we do that human beings are not simply biochemical machines. We can learn from them. So let me give a few concrete examples of how are the podcasts being used to make the world a better place, based on documented patterns of downloading and feedback received.

 Medical education in Britain and in North America, notably for Global Mental Health courses because for much of the historic past environments were low-resource and medically plural. This includes education in developing countries: for example, as part of the Scotland Malawi Mental Health Project to train psychiatrists in a country where they are few in number. I am in discussions with general practitioners, psychiatrists, and social workers in the UK about using the podcasts as a resource for continuing professional development.

Advocacy groups like Mental Health Foundation and institutions like the Wellcome Library to raise awareness of the mental health’s past and present (‘Bedlam: the asylum and beyond’ Exhibition).

 I’m engaging with the Scottish Prison Service, through the education program as part of a project called ‘Cell-Block Science’, to reach both prisoners and staff. Serious mental disorders are five times more common among prison inmates than the general population and four out of five prisoners have some kind of psychiatric issue. Sufferers and their families have found the podcasts a source of interest and support.

An award-winning American novelist and nationally-recognized public speaker on issues related to diversity and disability is a fan of the podcasts, which she has generously acknowledged.

You’ll have your own opportunity to tell us how the series has helped raise your awareness of mental health issues, in the past and present, as we’ll shortly be launching a questionnaire to get your feedback ahead of the launch of the second series: ‘The Voice of the Mad’.   Keep an eye on our website, Twitter feed and Facebook page for further information.  We look forward hearing from you!

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