EdBookFest: ‘Staying Well’ Series

Mental health is one of the major themes in this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival.  The Festival features a strand of events titled ‘Staying Well’, intended to explore ‘the importance of mental health and how we can better understand it’.  This series includes the representation of mental health in fiction, but also a number of critical, historiographical and clinical discussions on the challenges faced.  The events in the series promise to be quite diverse, bringing into the conversation many different perspectives and experiences.  This is a short selection of some of the events that are part of the series.The list of events that are part of this series can be found on the Edinburgh International Book Festival catalogue or on the Festival’s web site.  The first in the series is an event by John Burnside (Sunday, 16 August, 7:15 pm) about the emotional intensity of his works and how they represent mental illness and addiction.  In this event, he discusses his memoir, I Put a Spell on You, and his 1997 debut novel The Dumb House.  In another event that looks specifically at mental illness in fiction, Helen Fitzgerald and Andrew Michael Hurley (Friday, 21 August, 7:00 pm) discuss how the search for terrifying secrets is often the cause of pain rather than catharsis.  John Darnielle and Gavin Extence (Tuesday, 18 August, 3:30 pm) look at teenagers particularly and the conflict between imagined experiences and reality.

Taking a historiographical approach to the problem of madness, the sociologist Andrew Scull (Tuesday, 16 August, 11 am) appears at the Festival to discuss his new book Madness and Civilization, in which he looks at the history of madness and the different responses to insanity throughout the ages.

There are also a number of events dealing specifically with the clinical side of the issue.  David M Clark and Richard Layard (Tuesday, 18 August, 2 pm) seek to present, in their new book Thrive, quick, practical treatments for common psychological problems.  Suzanne O’Sullivan (Tuesday, 18 August, 5:45 pm) looks at the problem of psychosomatic illness in her book It’s All in Your Head.  June Andrews (Monday, 24 August, 2 pm and 7:30 pm, plus a special clinic after the 7:30 pm event) appears in two events discussing dementia and old age, plus with a special clinic at the end of the day for audience members wanting to follow up on the discussions at the events by discussing specific issues.

Another theme that emerges from this strand is the potentially therapeutic role the arts and artistic expression can play in dealing with mental health.  Charles Jencks (Thursday, 20 August, 10 am) discusses the role architecture played in the construction of the Maggie’s Centres.  Marion Coutts and Erwin Mortier (Monday, 24 August, 5:30 pm) present their accounts of coping with their loved ones’ health deteriorate.  Finally, in an event that was announced very recently, the pianist James Rhodes (Sunday, 30 August, 9:45 pm) discusses his controversial new memoir, Instrumental, in which he explores his traumatic childhood experience of sexual abuse and how classical music helped him cope with it.  These events are particularly intriguing as they deal with first-person narratives of dealing with mental illness.

The range of mental-health-related events at the Book Festival is quite diverse, encompassing a broad range of conditions within its purview.  Still, there seems to be a noticeable absence of an event dealing specifically with contemporary social and political agendas and how they treat mental health.

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