‘A patient is standing in the middle of the river. He gazes across the water to the city and the mountain above where the sun is setting. His back is turned to the hospital. The nurses are waiting for him patiently on the river bank. He seems uncertain whether to cross the river or to return. There is no danger. He is on the edge, in an in-between space, as is the hospital where I have worked as a specialist psychiatrist for over twenty-five years.’
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 that 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 enquiries 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.
Madness is illustrated by award-winning artist Fiona Moodie.