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Submitted Literature

Being Human: Reflections on Mental Distress in Society

By Alastair Morgan


Alastair Morgan’s fascinating text Being Human: Reflections on Mental Distress in Society is a collection of papers that brings together several different schools of thought, from forensic psychiatry to critical or post-psychiatry, with an overriding theme of the very humanity of madness.  This theme is circular – the papers in the text are humane in their approach while simultaneously reflecting on the human condition.  Human beings suffer mental distress precisely because of their humanity.  As Morgan states, the “purpose of this volume, then, is to collect an array of different voices, which, when taken together, can illuminate the subject of the interface between mental distress, mental health and the humanities, without offering any pragmatic or dogmatic methodology or declaration of intent” (10).  This book doesn’t have one dominant discoursal perspective, instead utilising historical, postmodern, philosophical and phenomenological stances to form an inclusive book that is in itself about inclusion.  Fundamentally, this book contributes to the ongoing debates around the social and cultural contexts of mental distress, issues of power in psychiatric practice and to the continuum model of mental health – that there is no clear demarcation between madness and sanity, but that all of us by virtue of being human exist fluidly, at differing points, along a continuum of health to illness.  Through this book, the processes of ‘going mad’ become not only comprehensible (for example, in John Cromby’s paper ‘Feelings, Beliefs and Being Human’) but also questionable.  As Patrick Callaghan points out in his paper ‘Artaud’s Madness: The Absence of Work?’, existent perspectives on mental health such supernatural, medical, psychological and postmodern “seek to explain the nature, or causes of madness” but tell us “little about what madness is” (142).  For this, psychiatry needs to turn towards the humanities – philosophy, history, literature and the arts, for example.  The diversity of the papers in this text – from papers focusing on historical diagnostics and practices that continue to impact upon current psychiatric formulation and care, to philosophical medications on mental distress such as those by Ian Parker and Philip Thomas, and finally papers focusing on reflecting critically on practice – means that there will be a paper that all clinicians could use.  Some are heavily embedded in philosophical frameworks, and others have a more overt relevance and application to psychiatric practice.  This book would be of particular interest and relevance to clinicians interested in more inclusive, more humane and more critically reflective practice.

Key Themes:

  • Revealing Reads

Reference: Alastair, Morgan. 2008. Being Human: Reflections on Mental Distress in Society. PCCS Books, 2008


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Friday 8th February 2013