Madness in music

The "raving madness" statue from the gates of the Bedlam mental hospital

Yesterday, during a visit to the thought-provoking Museum of the Mind, on the premises of the Bethlem hospital (still active but now renamed), I was reminded both how far we have come in the treatment of mental illness since the ‘Bedlam madhouse’ was first opened, and how far there is still to go.

At the entrance to the new museum stand the two statues which sat over the gates to the old hospital from 1676 to 1815: “Raving Madness” (pitcures above) and “Melancholy”.
When they were carved, these just about covered the range of diagnoses for mental illness. Many centuries later, we have a far better understanding of all the ways in which the mind can be ‘broken’, as well as the different manifestations of mental illness. Today, for example, is World Autism Awareness Day; although first coined by a Swiss psychiatrist in 1911, the word autism wasn’t used in its current sense until the 1940s, long after the building that houses the latest iteration of the Bethlem Hospital was built.

It made me wonder: how has the divvying up of mental illness into infinitesimally narrow diagnoses affected those who live with it? Have some types of mental illness or their manifestations become more ‘acceptable’ than others? Does that affect how much research we do into them, or how much treatment is available?

These are the sorts of questions we’ll be discussing at Song of Contagion as we try to turn different diseases and illnesses into music. Please come and join us at the launch workshop on April 23rd, 2016, or any time along our musical journey.

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This post was published on 03/04/16 in Pisani's picks, Science.

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