Different perspectives on psychiatry

Mental disorders are also an important topic in art, literature, movies and music. The WCP 2017 offers the opportunity to see different art exhibitions and performances and to personally get in touch with authors and filmmakers.

Exhibition „Manicomio“

Monday to Thursday I Hall 2.2

Touching photography – Perhaps the only people who are still interested in the mental asylums of the past are the photographers of the urban exploration („Urbex”) movement. Christoph Burger is one of them. Since 2013, he has made numerous trips to the Manicomi abbandonati of Italy. 

The history of psychiatry in Italy is one of dramas and tragedies. Forgotten by society, legally incapacitated, mentally and often also physically tormented, patients were locked away in inhumane conditions, deprived of their dignity and marginalised until far into the 20th century.

The darkest chapter in psychiatry was the rule of Benito Mussolini, which lasted from 1922 to 1943. In this period of fascist terror thousands of political dissidents and people out of favour with the regime were declared to be mentally ill and deported to a „Manicomio” – with the aim of destroying them mentally or even physically.

May 1978 marked a watershed in the history of psychiatry in Italy. Under the initiative of the psychiatrist and hospital director Franco Basaglia, the parliament in Rome passed the psychiatric reform. The declared aim was to introduce “humane psychiatry” by closing all Manicomi and creating sufficient places to provide outpatient care. Although most hospitals were closed and many patients were released, there were problems with creating the new points of care.

The bold project faltered in its early stages; no one built the dense network of decentralised treatment centres that should have accompanied the gradual closing of the hospitals. Apart from thoroughly laudable private initiatives, every effective health service for the released patients was lacking.

According to the statistics, the situation has improved in recent years. However, the way that mentally ill people are dealt with in Italy is still far from satisfactory. 

When Christoph Burger documents the decay in almost inaccessible rooms, he does so without artificial light and in keeping with the Urbex rule „Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.” Nothing is rearranged, everything is left as it is found. These trips have resulted in the series of images „Manicomio”.  

Photographs by Christoph Burger

Exhibition „People in Chains“

Monday to Thursday I  Hall 2.2

In villages of the Ivory Coast and Benin, thousands of mentally ill people live as so-called „people in chains”. They are chained to trees or locked into dark crates. They are tethered up like animals, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for years. Some die in captivity. Society is afraid of them; the belief still prevails that mentally ill people are possessed by demons.

The local organisation St. Camille de Lellis has been working since 1991 to free these people from their chains and care for them appropriately in treatment centres. The non-profit organisation „Freundeskreis St. Camille“, based in Reutlingen, Germany, has been supporting these efforts for more than 20 years through personal engagement, food and medicine. The aim is for the mentally ill people to return to their villages and receive long-term psychopharmaceutical treatment. The best way to enlighten people is to re-integrate the mentally ill into their communities and thus take away people’s fear, particularly from the families.

The exhibition „People in Chains: How Mentally Ill People are dealt with in West Africa” was designed by the museum MuSeele, a museum on the history of psychiatry located in the psychiatric hospital Christophsbad in Göppingen, Germany, in collaboration with the “Freundeskreis St. Camille“. This travelling exhibition consists of large-format colour photographs by the photographers Heinz Heiss and Uli Reinhardt together with short explanatory texts. An accompanying brochure provides additional background information.



Exhibition „Being A Human“

Monday to Thursday I Hall 2.2

„Being A Human” is a collection of photographs portraying people in Jimma, Ethiopia. These people face each other, share their day with happiness, anxiety, desperation and hope. Their feelings are depicted with peculiar ease. Sorrow and pessimism are seen in a playful and airy atmosphere. The story behind the pictures is: These individuals seek help for mental distress. They are patients at the Department of Psychiatry at Jimma University in Ethiopia.

In 2010, Jimma University with Prof. Markos Tesfaye and the Center for International Health of Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich have launched a Masters programme for mental health in Jimma, a town in southwestern Ethiopia. Up to now, about 50 students finished the programme and work as Masters for Mental Health, caring for the well-being of people with mental distress all over Ethiopia. They provide a space for an integrated understanding of mental illness – building bridges between traditional beliefs and modern psychiatric and psychotherapeutic treatments. The Masters programme itself is meanwhile fully organised and staffed by previous Masters.

For the Center for International Health: Sandra Dehning, Andrea Jobst, Kristina Adorjan

Photographs by Anselm Skogstad

Music „Schumann: Bipolar Disorder and the creative process" performed by Richard Kogan

Tuesday, 10.10.2017 | 17:00–18:30 | Hall B 

The great 19th century German composer Robert Schumann (1810–1856) represents one of the best examples of the complex relationship between creative genius and mental illness.  A prominent figure in music’s Romantic era, Schumann ignored traditional styles and wrote compositions that were based purely on a desire to express his inner state of mind. While it is challenging to do retrospective psychiatric diagnoses on historical figures, Schumann wrote letters and kept detailed diaries which strongly suggest that he suffered from bipolar disorder. 

Psychiatrist and pianist Richard Kogan will trace the course of Schumann’s psychiatric illness and will explore:

  • - how Schumann composed voluminously during hypomanic periods but stopped writing completely toward the end of his life when a severe depression culminated in a suicide attempt and eventual self-starvation in an insane asylum.
  • - how Schumann used musical composition to soothe his intrapsychic distress.
  • - how Schumann wrote powerful music at the urging of inner voices but was ultimately tormented by his auditory hallucinations. 

Kogan will perform some of Schumann’s most magnificent piano music to illuminate the discussion.  He will analyze how extreme fluctuations in mood can be both potentially beneficial and harmful in the creative process, explore Schumann’s fascinating relationship with his wife the virtuoso pianist Clara Wieck and will describe the nightmarish conditions in 19th century psychiatric hospitals and contrast this with 21st century treatment practices.

Music „The Bipolar Roadshow“

Wednesday, 11.10.2017 | 17:30–19:00 | Hall A4 

With the Bipolar Roadshow the German Association for Bipolar Disorders (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Bipolare Störungen e. V., DGBS) would like to draw attention to the particular problems of people with bipolar disorders and their relatives. The illness often has devastating social consequences: many people with a bipolar disorder can no longer work; friendships, marriages and families break down. However, with the proper care bipolar disorders are generally highly treatable.

The Bipolar Roadshow presents information about bipolar disorders in a way that is easy to understand and entertaining. Bipolar disorders are often associated with creativity. Many distinguished artists had or have a bipolar disorder: Robert Schumann, Hermann Hesse and more recently Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and Bruce Springsteen. The Bipolar Roadshow also wants to build a bridge between art and the illness. It does so by showing works by fine artists with a bipolar disorder as an accompaniment to a book reading and musical entertainment.

The Bipolar Roadshow also sees itself as an anti-stigma project: three artists with a bipolar disorder appear in public and talk or sing about their experiences with the illness and thus show that there is no reason to be ashamed. 

  • Introduction and presentation of the concept
    Andreas Reif, Germany
  • Songs from the Inside
    Martin Kolbe, Germany
  • Reading „Papa’s Fluttering Finch“
    Sebastian Schlösser, Germany
  • A Bit of Blue
    Emily Maguire with Christian Dunham, United Kingdom 
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Congress Venue

Messe Berlin
Main Entrance: Messe Süd
Jafféstraße I 14055 Berlin, Germany

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