Followers may know that the first two series of my podcasts are being used around the world by medical professionals to broaden their perspectives, for teaching in a variety of locations, and by a wide range of interested people. I am particularly proud that the College of Medicine in the University of Malawi is using them to train local psychiatrists in a part of the world which has very few.
Europe has 100 psychiatrists for every million people whereas sub-Saharan Africa has less than 1 per million. My contact in Malawi is Dr Rob Stewart of NHS Lothian and Edinburgh University, who works for part of the year on the African end of the Scotland Malawi Mental Health Education Project, which is part funded by the Scottish Government.
Talking to Rob a while back, I was struck by the similarities between a country like Malawi and Britain two or three centuries ago. With few specialists, people used a wide variety of therapies such as folk remedies and even witch doctors. When those with serious mental disorders come to the attention of psychiatrists in Malawi, they have usually been suffering for much longer than is the case in the developed world. Again, that is like the past, when there were very few effective chemical treatments and when people wore the appearance (and made the sounds) of madness much more openly.
So I was delighted to be invited to prepare a special four-part mini-series on colonial psychiatry. I’m sticking to Anglophone southern and eastern Africa, between the 1880s and 1960s, because that covers the geographical and cultural area in which Malawi is located. Between 1891 and 1964, when it became independent, Malawi was the British Protectorate of Nyasaland.
Preparing the mini-series has been a fascinating journey of discovery, not least because I spent part of my youth in India and in Ghana, both soon after their independence; my father was a mining engineer. I have some vivid memories of them and I find Africa enduringly fascinating. But most of all I am pleased to be doing some tangible good, even in my ivory tower, by helping people in a less developed country.
The mini-series on colonial psychiatry will slot in between Series 2 and Series 3 and will run for 4 weeks from Tuesday 23 January 2018.
In Series 3, I shall be talking to specialist researchers, clinicians, and carers about specific conditions, contexts, and types of care. My aim is to compare public perceptions of mental disorders and how they are treated, with those of experts in a variety of areas, so informing, de-mystifying, and hopefully de-stigmatizing opinion.