Mind Reading is the yearly conference of the collaboration between UCD Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers at the University ofBirmingham, and the Diseases of Modern Life and Constructing Scientific Communities Projects at St Anne's College, Oxford. Organised by Elizabeth Barrett (Consultant in Liaison Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Children’s University Hospital) and Melissa Dickson (Lecturer in Victorian Literature at the University of Birmingham) the conference, and project more generally, focuses on two simple questions: Do doctors and patients speak the same language, and how can we use literature to bridge the evident gaps? In what follows, I summarise just some of the talks and workshop sessions.
How do cultural norms and expectations shape diagnosis and the experience of illness? Melissa Dickson showed us that, in 19th Century Britain, there were multiple literary and medical accounts of a psychosis-like state brought about by…green tea. It was an unfamiliar substance from a culture about which many British people were suspicious, and which, unlike black tea, did not arrive through an established colonial trade route. Following this, and other examples (my all-time favourite being “bicycle face”) we were encouraged to think about how contemporary cultural expectations might shape experiences and clinical practices around different illnesses.