Touching Madness

26 Mar 2009 08:59:00.000

PA 88/09

The link between madness and creativity is being used to enhance the quality of care offered by the nurses and doctors of the future, thanks to a new global research network based at The University of Nottingham.

Despite the recognised importance of literary research in educating medical and health professionals it has had – until now – little sustained collaborative working between US and UK researchers and creative writers within health humanities. The Network encourages critical thinking skills and promotes an empathic climate for clinical practice. It also brings together some of the world’s leading experts in the fields of psychiatry, teaching and literature.

Head of the MLN, Professor Paul Crawford said: “We wanted to give people a clear opportunity to bring together different strands of the debates around what literature can offer us in terms of insight into experiences of mental difficulty.  We wanted to create an innovative community that will share ideas and lead the way in making the best use of one of the greatest resources for understanding others.”



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Professor of Psychiatry and internationally renowned poet, Femi Oyebode, was the keynote speaker at the launch event. He said: “Empathy is like any other skill; it can be developed and trained, and a novel or a film or a poem is a good way of teaching empathy; getting you to stand in someone else’s shoes. It sharpens your empathic ability, so when you’re in the clinic and dealing with someone who has, for example, a cancer that is likely to kill them, you can see the world through their eyes and that will influence how you will talk to them and how you will prepare them for the end. Overall it makes for a better clinician, a more humane clinician.”

The term ‘madness’ has been used deliberately to align the network more with broader literary and historical scholarship than with a narrower clinical focus which would be implied by a term such as ‘mental disorder.’
The Network aims to foster international, collaborative and sustainable projects and enable knowledge, techniques and experience in the UK to reach an audience in the US.

MLN will promote interaction between academic and clinical-based groups and individuals including:
- Scholars in the field of literature
- Health practitioners and clinicians
- Health educators

MLN will support research by:
- National and international research collaborations
- Communicating to both academic and non-academic audiences
- Creating a virtual environment for literary studies related to mental illness.

Professor Crawford said: “We hope that this human enterprise, this reaching into the experience of mental health problems will enhance the way that our societies and our governments as well as our health services look after people in mental distress. Because they are no different from us, we are there with them and society should remove the lie that says this section is sane and can have a voice and this section of a society, that is people with mental health problems, must be quiet.”

A video podcast on the Network is now available at the UoN Podcast site –

— Ends —

Notes to editors: Professor Paul Crawford holds a chair in Health Humanities in the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy at The University of Nottingham. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Professor of the Institute of Mental Health and Visiting Professor Health Communications at both the Medical Faculty, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan and the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. He is co-founder (with Prof Ron Carter) and chair of the Health Language Research Group at the University of Nottingham, bringing together academics and clinicians to advance applied linguistics in health care settings. In 2008 he received a Lord Dearing Award for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.

The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.

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More information is available from Professor Paul Crawford on +44 (0)7507649364 
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