At home with people with severe mental illness
New understandings of mental health open up new ways of investigating it — including for researchers outside the healthcare profession. Access to voices from inside the illness experience, out in public, is greater now than ever before. This is an interesting opportunity for cultural institutions like museums. A museum, too, can treat mental illness. Not with diagnosis, therapy, and medication for the individual patient, and not in a hospital. But as an open and accessible venue where different beliefs and practices can be lifted up and added to the public dialogue about mental health and about the understandings and treatment options available in the field.
There are many stories about the experience of mental illness. Psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and other health professionals hear them all the time. The ill person describes symptoms and the effect of medications on their health; consider diagnoses, the best possible medication and other care measures. The roles are rather clear: the patient receives help and treatment; health workers provide this help and treatment. However, the person who in this case is a patient may also have a potentially important role to play as a creator of knowledge and converser in a larger and open forum. Society can use the expertise and skills people with mental illness have.
In this paper, I will present the exhibition project “At home with...” closer, and open a discussion on methodology, results and further use of the exhibition.
Ellen Lange is trained as an historian of ideas. She has worked at the National Medical Museum since 2003 and has curated several exhibitions and lead several museum projects. Many of t hem has tried to give voice to people, groups or positions seldom heard in the society.