What's on your mind?

Lisa Appignanesi and Margot Waddell

Photo: James Royall

Thursday 13th March, 2008 | Posted by Caroline Graty

‘When I was growing up people were unhappy, not depressed.’ Lisa Appignanesi was talking to psychoanalyst Margot Waddell at Connecting Conversations. She feels that the definition of ‘ordinary' has become increasingly restricted. Emotions have become symptoms rather than an inevitable part of life’s journey. People find a diagnosis and a pill reassuring, and are complicit in the medicalisation of the human condition.

This is explored in her impressive new book Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 to the Present. The book investigates the interplay between an era’s anxieties and concerns and the mental health conditions that arise within it. It also charts the development of ‘mind doctoring’ and the ways in which the boundaries between madness, badness and sadness have shifted through time.

The conversation between Appignanesi and Waddell ranged as widely as the book. Did the feminist movement reveal cases of anorexia, or cause them by drawing attention to women’s bodies? Was the rise in multiple personality disorder a by-product of a crisis in female identity? Is self-harm, a rapidly growing phenomenon in teenage girls, a copycat act, or does the virtual, Facebook world young people inhabit change their relationship with their physical body?

Although Appignanesi’s book focuses on women, Waddell noted that men’s minds are not immune to the culture they live in, stating the huge rise in referrals of young men with body dysmorphic disorder as an example. ‘We’ve never had quite so much emphasis on the male body image,’ says Appignanesi. ‘Images play on the mind in more direct and immediate ways than words. You end up comparing your body with what you see.’

Male or female, there's probably a lot more on your mind than you realise...

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