Book Explores 'Our Encounters with Madness'

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A new book seeks to dispel misconceptions about mental health and society’s relationship with ‘madness’ through the true stories of service users, carers - and survivors.

Book cover

Our Encounters with Madness

Amongst those who share their stories is award-winning novelist Terry Pratchett who describes his very public battle with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

All of the contributors to Our Encounters with Madness have written freely about their own personal experiences without being subjected to analytical commentary which, say the book’s editors, tend to dilute or sanitise true tales.

“This book is all about society’s experience of ‘madness’,” said co-editor Dr Francis C. Biley, Associate Professor and member of the Centre for Qualitative Research in the School of Health and Social Care at Bournemouth University. “That word has been used for over 150 years to describe mental illness. In a professional and a lay sense, it has come to be labelled as a derogatory term but sufferers and service-users more recently use the word as a way of taking control and emancipating themselves from their own condition. Mental health problems are also labelled as ‘diseases’ without any real evidence to support that they are.”

Dr Biley and his co-editors, Dr Alec Grant, University of Brighton, Principal Lecturer in the School of Nursing & Midwifery and Hannah Walker, Chair of the Dorset Mental Health Forum, have grouped the stories in the book under five themes – diagnosis, stories of experience, experiencing the mental health system, being a carer, abuse and survival.

Some of the case studies are by people based along the south coast of England – Bournemouth, Poole, Brighton – with others from the United States and further afield. Amongst those who share their stories is award-winning novelist Terry Pratchett who describes his very public battle with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

“We’ve asked those who have experienced mental health challenges to write about the real world of mental health care. Every story is different and what we’ve put together is a snapshot of the kinds of problems that exist with a message that it is possible to recover,” Dr Biley continued. “We hope that the work will be of great benefit to a wide range of people - from student mental health care professionals and those who work in the profession to service users, carers and academics interested in narrative enquiry.”

“All the authors of these stories have suffered: some from what was inflicted on them as children, some from demons that seem to have been simply part of who they are or were, and some from the failure – at worst the betrayal – of what are supposed to be helping professions,” said Arthur Frank, Professor of Sociology at the University of Calgary in Canada who has written the foreword to the book.

“The authors have also found resources for survival, and change, and the discovery of purpose in ther lives which is why I understand this book as an exemplar of narrative healing,” he concluded. “Professional intervention might begin with offering people the great gift of examples not to imitate but from which to draw resources, which is what the book does."

Our Encounters with Madness is published by PCCS Books, priced at £18.00 (ISBN 978 1 906254 38 4). All profits from the book will be donated to The Hub, a charity helping the homeless in Dorchester, Dorset, UK.


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Sally Gates
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