Exploring the History of Psychiatry

The first of two series of weekly podcasts on the History of Psychiatry in Britain since the Renaissance, recorded by ISHR’s Rab Houston, has just been launched. This first series covers England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland during the last 500 years, looking at continuities and change 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 contemporary 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 assessing 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.

The series is available free of charge and without registration, and comprises 44 podcasts of between 8 and 16 minutes each, which will be released on the website and on Soundcloud each week. The podcasts are grouped around 13 big questions or topics in the history of psychiatry; you can find these and the titles of individual podcasts on the website, along with some brief suggestions for both background and further reading.

You can access the podcasts through the project website and on SoundCloud.

A second series of podcasts, entitled ‘The voice of the mad in Britain from the Renaissance to the present day,’ will start broadcasting early in 2017. Using extracts from the writings of those with mental problems or from their reported speech, this second series will explore a range of mental disorders ranging from autism and depression to schizophrenia and obsessive stalking.