#TAOM (The Act Of Madness, July 04, 2015):

SynTalk thinks about insanity, madness, and mental illness, & its links with questions of medicine, physiology, freedom, control, knowledge and power. We weave together both theoretical explication as well as purely personal reflections to try and understand madness, and journey in and out of mental asylums a few times. Can we understand madness ‘itself’ as a truth beyond any discussion? The concepts are derived off / from Descartes, Auguste Comte, Philippe Pinel, Owen A. R. Berkeley Hill, Jal Dhunjibhoy, Durkheim, Amartya Sen, & Jeffrey Masson, among others. What makes a (happy, purposeful, & successful) human being go mad, & can there be a master narrative? Would you prefer to be called mad rather than mentally ill? Is the core question the need (or not?) for defining the ‘abnormal’? Why & how are the mental disorders categorically or syndromally diagnosed across multiple axes? Is the DSM atheoretical, and might it be linked to our, often only partially organized, deeply held beliefs? Is the naming and formulation of the problem intimately linked with the philosophical perspective that one adopts? Can one understand the birth of the concept of the (lunatic) asylum and private madhouses? Do people ever leave the asylum after retrieving their personhood? The trends and concepts of (de-,re-, & trans-)institutionalization? How the space of madness may be a space of resistance, and then a stepping stone to growth? Has mental illness always been and will be present with human cultures? Is all madness manifested in the inter personal spaces and ‘beside the mind’? The gigantic task of capturing the inter personal and the social domain (outside physiology) when it is not an objective given. We also explore the reflexive relationship between theory, experience, and power (equations), & how we articulate the position for ‘them’. Is our understanding of some conditions, at the same time, not biological enough? Is mental disorder localized in the head? Is psychiatry very far from perfect? The links between workhouses, chains, moral treatment, neurodiversity, pagans, delusional depression, When Elephants Weep, welfare state, diabetes, Governor General of Bengal, ‘care of the soul’,~3000 BC, Serotonin, Psychiatria Democratica, Victorian era, Lahore, & the rock bottom. Do animals get depressed? Is it necessary to articulate the experience of madness? Is the hunger for this understanding a form of anxiety in us? Have the mentally ill been criminalized over centuries, & is there a deep need to not cut ‘them’ off? The SynTalkrs are: Dr. Bhargavi V. Davar (mental health advocacy, The Bapu Trust, Pune), Prof. Parthasarathi Mondal (social theory, TISS, Mumbai), & Dr. Alok Sarin (psychiatry, Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science & Research, New Delhi).

SynTalk is pleased and privileged to have hosted the following SynTalkrs (in alphabetical order) on its #TAOM show.

Dr. Bhargavi V. Davar (mental health advocacy)  is the Managing Trustee of The Bapu Trust, Pune, an organisation promotes self reliance among persons living with mental illness. She comes from a family of users of psychiatric services, who have experienced violence and abuse within the system. She works with a strong identity as a survivor, having made conscious choices not to opt for psychiatry even when seriously disabled. Her Ph.D. thesis on the Epistemological Foundations of Psychoanalytic Theory was later published as ‘Psychoanalysis as a Human Science’. Her other published books include: ‘Mental health of Indian women’ (Sage, 1999) and ‘Mental health from a gender perspective’ (Sage, 2001). She has also published in several peer reviewed journals and book compilations, and regularly gives seminars and lectures. She also runs a yearly course on gender and mental health in India for the development sector. Dr. Davar enjoys mentoring researchers, scholars, fellow workers, and young people. She is an avid alternative mental health seeker, and finds gardening, yoga, meditation, the gym and diet changes very therapeutic. By training a philosopher and a social science researcher, she finished her Ph.D. from IIT Bombay (1993).

Prof. Parthasarathi Mondal (social theory) is presently Chairperson, Centre for Social Theory, School of Development Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. He has been trained in the liberal arts, social work, and social sciences in health. He completed his Masters in Social Work from Agra University and his M.Phil. from JNU, New Delhi. He has been involved in teaching and training in the social theory, development and social work sectors for over a decade and a half. He has published a number of papers on social theory, political philosophy and psychiatry in refereed journals and anthologies. He has taught as well as developed innovative curriculum for postgraduate and research-level subjects related to social theory, development studies and social work. Prof. Mondal was on the editorial advisory board of the ‘Indian Journal of Medical Ethics’ (IJME) and is presently a member of several professional associations in India and abroad.

Dr. Alok Sarin (psychiatry)  is a practicing clinical psychiatrist based in New Delhi, with an active interest in medicine, psychiatry, ethics, society, history and literature. Dr. Sarin completed his M.B.B.S from AIIMS, Delhi in 1980 & M.D. (Psychiatry) in 1983. He has been in active clinical practice since 1985, and is currently attached as an Honorary consultant to the Sitaram Bhartia Institute, New Delhi. He has been actively involved with various Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) such as the Richmond Fellowship Society and the Chittaprakasha Charitable Trust. He has been the recipient of the Senior Fellowship by the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, for research on the mental health aspects of history. He is presently working on a project in continuation of this, funded by the Wellcome Trust. He is the conceptualiser of the Canvas Askew, a public forum for addressal of mental health and illness issues. This is a series of talks and discussions on various aspects of psychiatry that is now in its fifth year, and has become a popular platform for public debate on mental health. He is also presently a member of the Task Force on Mental Health Policy set up by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India.

Note: Any & all errors in the brief profiles above are SynTalk’s own.