Touching Madness

Touching Madness

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.”

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 –

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