On Strange and Norrell and Madness

On Strange and Norrell and Madness

The BBC has once more proved the worth of the licence fee with the stunning adaptation of Susanna Clarke's novel Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Now we're all had time to digest the series, I wanted to think on the depictions of "madness" in the adaptation and what writers can learn about depicting mental illness, particularly in the fantasy genre. SPOILERS FOR THE SERIES AND THE NOVEL - YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED The relationship between magic and madness "Magic cannot cure madness." - Gilbert Norrell From the beginning, Strange and Norrell was explicit in its discussion of madness and magic, with an alternate early nineteenth century viewpoint. When Sir Walter Pole asks Mr Norrell to cure his wife of madness, Norrell is firm on the point. However, given what we know of Norrell's role in Lady Pole's resurrection and his subsequent distancing from fairy magic, Norrell may well be lying. However, his efforts with Strange on curing the King's madness seem to uphold this assertion. Jonathan...
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Freudian Script: Cannabis and Psychosis

Freudian Script: Cannabis and Psychosis

With the recent study from King's College London linking "skunk" to diagnosis of psychotic disorders, I thought it would be a good time to examine the link between cannabis and psychosis in detail. I have previously written about cannabis and psychosis while talking gangs and drugs, but we didn't look at the evidence base. As I was writing this post, I realised that I've also waded into the fields of statistics and research methodology. Hopefully, this will provide some clarity the next time a newspaper starts talking about odds and risk in healthcare. Background First, let's get some definitions on the table. Psychosis, in essence, is the inability to distinguish what is real and what is not. It is most often talked about it terms of schizophrenia. You can read more detail about it here. Cannabis is a group of flowering plants native to Central and South Asia. To get biological, there are three main species - Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. However, the...
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Freudian Script: How Common Are Mental Health Problems?

Freudian Script: How Common Are Mental Health Problems?

If you've visited this blog before, you'll know I like to bang on about the accurate and sensitive portrayal of common mental health problems. You may have noticed that I don't find many good portrayals - in fact, I sometimes find it hard to find any examples at all. Mental health has a visibility problem. Is that because it's not all that common to have a mental illness? Or is it because we like to hide from things that scare us and that we find hard to understand? Of course, some mental health problems are overrepresented. If you watch enough crime drama, you might be forgiven for thinking that one-quarter of the population of New York City is a psychopath - and the other three-quarters victims. To clear things up, here are a list of mental health statistics, comparing common mental health problems that you might see in fiction to reality in the UK. I've included nods to other health problems, to give...
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Freudian Script: Gangs and Drugs

Freudian Script: Gangs and Drugs

Gangs and drugs - in the eyes of the public, inextricably intertwined. But what is the impact of gang lifestyle on mental health? And how do alcohol and drugs fit the picture? What is a gang? My protagonist Jason often protests that he wasn't in a gang. He ran with a group of lads who liked petty theft and doing drugs on the weekend. So, what exactly is a gang? In its 2009 report "Dying to Belong", The Centre for Social Justice identified that part of the problem of researching and tackling the negative effects of gang culture is the lack of universal definition. Therefore, they proposed a definition, which we will use for the purpose of this post: "A relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of young people who (1) see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group (2) engage in a range of criminal activity and violence (3) identify with or lay claim over territory (4) have some form of identifying structural feature (5)...
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Freudian Script: Bipolar Affective Disorder

Freudian Script: Bipolar Affective Disorder

Bipolar Affective Disorder: The Fight For The Middle Ground After the revelation that Robin Williams suffered with bipolar affective disorder, a rush of articles about creatives and mental health problems sprung up all over the shop. Last week - not for the first time - a young man sat in an assessment with me and said he didn't want medication to take away his "creativity". So, now seemed like a good time to talk about what bipolar affective disorder is and what it isn't, and how Hollywood and the media often get it wrong. What is bipolar affective disorder? Also know as manic depression, bipolar affective disorder is a mental health problem consisting of cycles of two opposite moods: manic/high phases and depressive/low phases. In between episodes, people sit somewhere in a mood state that is "normal" for them - which may run slightly high or low, depending on the person. A person with "rapid cycling" disease has four or more episodes per year. Bipolar...
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Freudian Script: The Psychopath

The Psychopath - favourite of Hollywood and tabloid journalism alike. This week's Freudian Script attempts to clarify the definition of psychopathy, identify people wrongly called psychopaths, and uncover how you can write better psychopaths. DISCLAIMER: This blog post is designed for writers of fiction. If you are concerned that you or someone you know has symptoms of mental health problems, please see your doctor instead of doing a test on the internet. What is a psychopath? Unlike other conditions I have detailed in this series, psychopathy is a murky concept at best and is often the subject of controversy. I will therefore digress into the details of classification to shed some light on the problem. Psychopathy is considered a personality disorder, often sub-typed under either anti-social or dissocial personality disorder - depending on your classification system. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), baby of the World Health Organisation and preferred by UK psychiatrists, bundles the term in under dissocial personality disorder. The Diagnostic and...
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Freudian Script: Psychosis

Welcome to a new series of Freudian Script, where I delve into psychology and psychiatry for writers. My focus over the next few weeks will be on common mental health disorders, including basic facts, common portrayals in fiction, and how writers can accurately and sensitively tackle these diseases in their work. DISCLAIMER: This blog post is designed for writers of fiction. If you are concerned that you or someone you know has symptoms of mental health problems, please see your doctor. My first topic is PSYCHOSIS. Frequently misunderstood and misrepresented by writers and journalists alike, psychosis covers myriad diseases and comes in many varieties. Psychosis is NOT psychopathy - the terms "psychotic" and "psychopathic" are not the same thing, though these terms are frequently (and inaccurately) used interchangeably. While I will discuss psychopathy and sociopathy at a later date, we will concentrate on psychosis for now. What is psychosis? In the broadest sense, psychosis is the inability to distinguish what is real and what...
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