Communicating Mental Health, c.1700-2013

Monday 16 September (10:00) - Tuesday 17 September 2013 (17:00)

Workshop Leader: Dr Jonathan Reinarz


Building on the success of ‘Complaining about Medicine’ (11/2012), this two-day workshop seeks to broaden this important, but underdeveloped area: communicating medicine and health. The event will help consolidate a new group ‘Social Studies of Medicine’: disparate University of Birmingham scholars researching social aspects of health, with historical, ethical, policy-oriented or medical humanities approaches. Yet the clear aim of this workshop is to widen and deepen interdisciplinarity by exploring how diverse fields are impacting on the rich lineage of communicating mental health, and vice versa.  

During the past months, the legislative shifts in health and social care have prompted a lively public debate involving the ‘coming out’ of those who have experienced mental distress. This workshop will consider how past and present experiences and discussions can in future inform everything from art to best medical practice and government policy.  The main organiser Dr Jonathan Reinarz (Director, History of Medicine Unit), therefore intends the workshop to include and reflect such diversity: early-career and experienced scholars, service users and clinicians, working in history, ethics, law, philosophy, politics, policy, biography, medicine, psychiatry, literature, theatre, film and technology. The event will facilitate knowledge exchange and promote networks for future discourse across disciplines; in the first instance, it is anticipated to generate an edited collection, delivering a greater reach for the findings and provoking wider thinking about ways of communicating mental health.   

Interest has been expressed by scholars from different colleges, Professor Lisa Downing, Modern Languages; Dr Jan Campbell, English; Professor Femi Oyebode, Psychiatry; Professors Max Birchwood and Chris Oliver, Psychology; and Ric Bowl, Applied Social Studies. External speakers and participants will include pioneers in the field, such as Professor Hilary Marland (University of Warwick) and Professor Joseph Melling (University of Exeter). We have also invited two keynote speakers, and hope to incorporate Mind and Rethink representatives. We have received considerable interest from colleagues at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust. The workshop will feature c.22 speakers with a 50:50 balance between external and internal delegates. Further dialogue will be encouraged in an informal evening atmosphere, which proved so valuable to the November 2012 event.

Suggested Topics for Papers:

  • Photography and film in diagnosis  
  • First-hand accounts by patients/service users (including letters and art)  
  • Theoretical discussions and medical treatises  
  • Disseminating research findings to inform practice  
  • Communication between doctors, patients, families, different agencies and members of staff  
  • Connecting with children and adults with neurological and learning disabilities  
  • Verbalising symptoms and experiences  
  • Psychoanalysis and talking therapy  
  • Public debate about mental illness and the language of official reports and the law
  • Conveying positive and negative outcomes of illness and its care  
  • Mental health in literature and theatre  
  • Individual, activist and support group use of the internet, social media and assistive technologies

Academic Organising Committee:

Dr Jonathan Reinarz (Director, History of Medicine Unit, MDS)  

Dr Leonard D. Smith (History of Medicine Unit, MDS, and mental health worker) 

Dr Rebecca Wynter (History, CAL, and History of Medicine Unit, MDS) 

Dr Jerry Tew (Applied Social Studies, Social Sciences)

Draft Programme



Coffee and Registration


Welcome and Introduction

Drs Jonathan Reinarz, Len Smith and Rebecca Wynter (University of Birmingham)


Panel One – Understanding Experience

~ Dr Louise Hide (Birkbeck College, University of London), ‘Letters from the Asylum. What Can They Tell Historians About the Patient’s Experience?’

~ Barbara Norden (Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust), ‘Talking Personality’




Panel Two – Negotiating Power

~ Professor Femi Oyebode (University of Birmingham and Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust), ‘Fat beyond the call of duty: power and psychiatry’

~ Jennifer Wallis (Queen Mary, University of London), “The Relieving Officer seems to make it up as he goes on’: Diagnostic Discrepancies and the Role of the Patient’

~ Dr Tom Harrison (University of Birmingham), ‘Who’s Really in Charge Here? Care or Custody in the Post-War British Mental Hospital?’




Panel Three – Talking Objects

~Dr Jane Hamlett (Royal Holloway, University of London), ‘“You can send a few rashers for breakfast”: Material Culture and Emotional Relationships in Patient Letters from Bethlem Hospital and Holloway Sanatorium, 1870-1914’

~ Professor Joseph Melling (University of Exeter), ‘Hanging out with the Washing: Sexual Deviancy Among Male Patients in a British Provincial Hospital’

~ Dr Rob Ellis (University of Huddersfield), ‘‘Without Decontexualisation’: Mental Health and the Communication of the ‘True’ History of Institutional Care’




Panel Four – Artistic Expression

~ Dr Allan Beveridge (Queen Margaret Hospital, NHS Fife), ‘The Presentation of Madness in Modern Scottish Literature’

~ Dr Persephone Sextou (Newman College, Birmingham) and Dr Paul Patterson (Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust), ‘Mental Health in Theatre: Staging Bipolar and the Perception of the Audience’


Extended Paper

Dr Jonathan Andrews (University of Newcastle), 'Legitimate literary communication in the Victorian asylum: contributors to Edinburgh Asylum's Morningside Mirror, ca. 1845-1890' [TBC]



* coffee available

Poster Presentations and Artefact Session

~ Conor Kavanagh, Dr Clare M. Eddy, Professor Andrea E. Cavanna* (University of Birmingham and Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust; * and University College, London), ‘The Consequences of Love: Depression and Insomnia’

~ Dr Nicole Baur (University of Exeter), ‘Framing psychiatry: from lantern lectures to urban exploration’

~ Alice Mauger (University College Dublin), ‘Employment, Economic Depression and the Mentally Ill in Late Nineteenth-Century Ireland’

~ Steven J. Taylor (University of Leicester), ‘"She was frightened while pregnant by a monkey at the zoo": Identifying the causes of child mental deficiency in nineteenth-century England'

~ Clare Mullett and Anna Young (University of Birmingham) with artefacts from the University’s Research and Special Collections   [TBC]


Panel Five – (Mis)Representations

~ Dr Katherine Rawling (Royal Holloway, University of London), ‘“She sits all day in the attitude depicted in the photo”: Photography and the Patient in the Late Nineteenth-Century Asylum’

~ Dr Victoria Long (Glasgow Caledonian University), ‘Destigmatising Mental Illness? Historical Perspectives on Public Education’

~ Susan Ridout (University of Birmingham), ‘Representations of Young Autistic Adults: Use of Combined Methods to Narrate Experience and Avoid the ‘Imposed Identities’ that can Impact Negatively on Wellbeing’




Panel Six – Sharing Trauma

~ Dr Pamela Michael (Bangor University), ‘The Language of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Wales’

~ Dr Sarah York (University of Warwick), ‘Mental Distress and Narratives of War: The Experience of British Soldiers Serving in the Second Boer War, 1899-1902’




PanelSeven – Networks and Boundaries

~ Professor Michael Larkin (University of Birmingham),‘Communicating with Families about Mental Health’

~ Katherine Chisholm, DrPaul Patterson*, Professor Sheila Greenfield, Dr Erin Turner* and Professor Max Birchwood+(University of Birmingham, *Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust, + University of Birmingham and Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust), ‘Adolescents’ Construction of Mental Health and Ill-Health; Implications for Engagement’ 

~ Sarah-Jane Fenton (University of Birmingham), ‘Mental Health Services in Adolescence and Early Adulthood in the UK – Challenging Interface between Policy and Practice and the Spaces that Lie Between’




Panel Eight – Future Communications

~ Dr Charlotte Connor, Professor Max Birchwoodet al.(University of Birmingham and Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust), ‘Reducing the Duration of Untreated Psychosis in First-Episode Psychosis’

~ Dr Jerry Tew (University of Birmingham), ‘A Crisis of Meaning: Can ‘Schizophrenia’ Survive in the 21st Century?’


Discussant and Close

Professor Peter Bartlett (University of Nottingham)

AFTER HOURS: 4.45-6 – ‘Taking Communication Forward’: a chance for internal participants – local, UoB, strategic partner (Warwick, Leicester, Nottingham) and BSMHFT parties – to discuss future projects and funding applications.

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