Podcast – History of Psychiatry in Britain since 1500

Screenshot from 2016-07-24 15-01-02

The ‘History of Psychiatry in Britain since the Renaissance’ is the first of two series of weekly podcasts beginning in July 2016. The author of these podcasts is Professor Rab Houston of the School of History: a social historian of Britain who has published extensively on the history of mental disorders and their cultural, political, legal, and economic context, especially during the period 1500-1850.

This is the first of two series of weekly podcasts beginning in July 2016. 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 assesses 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, not only for psychiatrists, but for all healthcare professionals, welfare policy makers, and indeed anyone with an interest in mental health.

The aims of the podcasts are 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. In addition, it wishes to inform all branches of medicine and social work about the history of one increasingly important branch of their profession: mental health. The podcast also hopes 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. The significance of a knowledge of history to the makers of policy on social welfare will be emphasised, 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. These podcasts will be entitled ‘The voice of the mad in Britain from the Renaissance to the present day’. The series will feature 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. These podcasts will give a sense of what it was like for sufferers to cope with being mad or being thought mad. Moreover, they will show how those who came into contact with mad people coped in their turn with words, moods, and acts, which they struggled to understand.

Every week, new episodes of the podcast series will be released. You can visit the website or follow the project on Facebook and Twitter for the weekly podcast updates and more information on the history of psychiatry since the Renaissance.


History of psychiatry: list of podcasts

1. What can history teach us about psychiatry?

1.1 Psychiatry and its subject

1.2 An historian’s approach to psychiatry: the aims of the series

2. How were mental problems identified and described in the past?

2.1 Melancholy and mania: the main classifications

2.2 Mind and body

2.3 Describing and identifying mental problems: lay and legal language

2.4 Madness, witchcraft, and religion

3. How have ideas about the causes of mental problems changed over time?

3.1 From humours to nerves

3.2 Brain and body

3.3 Freud and the psyche

4. How have therapies for mental ailments changed over time?

4.1 Holistic and ‘heroic’ remedies

4.2 ‘Moral therapy’ and the origins of psychological treatment

4.3 Surgery and early drug treatments

4.4 The pharmacological revolution

5. Where were the mentally troubled looked after before there were public asylums?

5.1 Domestic care and parish poor relief

5.2 Private madhouses

5.3 Domestic or institutional options?

5.4 The familiarity of madness

6. How bad was Bedlam (Bethlem Hospital)?

6.1 Bedlam part 1: a corrupt freak show?

6.2 Bedlam part 2: cruelty or cure?

7. How do we account for the rise and decline of asylums?

7.1 Numbers

7.2 Roots and routes

7.3 Changing attitudes to asylums

7.4 Foucault and anti-psychiatry

8. What were the origins of the psychiatric profession?

8.1 Modern mental medicine

8.2 Medical practitioners and practice in the past

8.3 The dawn of psychiatry

8.4 Divisions and diagnoses

8.5 Mental health nursing

9. What was the relationship between psychiatry and the law?

9.1 Crime and the insanity defence

9.2 Civil law and mental incapacity

9.3 Doctor and patient: anti-psychiatry revisited

10. How has psychiatry been portrayed in mass media?

10.1 Drama and novels

10.2 Newspapers and printed images

10.3 Film

10.4 Madness and creativity

11. How was suicide understood in the past?

11.1 Hidden from history

11.2 Patterns of suicide in the past: some surprises

11.3 The mind of the suicide and the attitudes of relatives and friends

12. Has the incidence of mental illness changed over time?

12.1 New diagnoses or new ailments?

12.2 Changes in science and society

12.3 New demographics

13. Reprise: the lessons of history

13.1 Historians and scientists

13.2 Policy and its context

13.3 ‘Caring for people’ or caring about people?

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