Reliving the experiences of those with mental illnesses

06 April 2020 - 12:34
'Madness' features illustrations by award-winning artist Fiona Moodie.
'Madness' features illustrations by award-winning artist Fiona Moodie.
Image: Fiona Moodie

"This book has irrevocably changed my understanding of madness. Through succinct and often poetic accounts, Baumann carefully mediates access to glimpses of the brave, fearful, lonely and vulnerable humanities of those suffering from psychiatric disorders, especially schizophrenia. The text, illuminated by extraordinary artwork, compels one to believe that beyond all the distress and despair, there is, and always should be, hope." – Antjie Krog

A patient is standing in the middle of the river, his back turned to the hospital. The nurses are waiting for him patiently on the riverbank. He seems uncertain whether to cross the river or to return. There is no danger. He is in an in-between space, as is the hospital where I have worked as a specialist psychiatrist for over 25 years.

'Madness' by Sean Baumann.
'Madness' by Sean Baumann.
Image: Supplied

For many of us, what lies beyond conventional portrayals of mental illness is often shrouded in mystery, misconception and fear.

Dr Sean Baumann spent decades as a psychiatrist at Valkenberg Hospital and, through his personal engagement with patients’ various forms of psychosis, he describes the lived experiences of those who suffer from schizophrenia, depression, bipolar and other disorders.

The stories told are authentic, mysterious and compelling, representing both vivid expressions of minds in turmoil and the struggle to give form and meaning to distress. The author seeks to describe these encounters in a respectful way, believing careless portrayals of madness cause further suffering and perpetuate the burden of stigma.

Baumann argues cogently for a more inclusive way of making sense of mental health. With sensitivity and empathy, his inquiries into the territories of art, psychology, consciousness, otherness, free will and theories of the self reveal how mental illness raises questions that affect us all.

Dr Sean Baumann worked for 25 years as a consultant to the male acute service at Valkenberg Hospital in Cape Town and was a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at UCT, where he holds an honorary position. He is the editor of Primary Care Psychiatry: A Practical Guide for Southern Africa (1998, 2007, 2015). His cantata Madness: Songs of Hope and Despair was performed at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town in 2017.

Ebook available from Amazon, Kobo, Snapplify and ITSI.