No child’s play: three new books grapple with mothers and madness


No child’s play: three new books grapple with mothers and madness

Authors try to make sense of their early, intimate encounters with mental illness at home

Michele Magwood

Mothers and mental illness loom large on the bookshelves this month, and though their publication date would have been set in motion last year, the books ride in on a wave of anxiety around mental health.

Sean Baumann worked for 25 years as a psychiatrist in the male unit of Valkenberg Hospital in Cape Town, with a special interest in schizophrenia. Madness: Stories of Uncertainty and Hope (Jonathan Ball Publishers) chronicles some of the cases he treated over the years and it makes for poignant and illuminating reading.

Baumann writes with a sort of impassioned compassion, crying out for better understanding and acceptance from the community for these afflicted people. It is his dream, he says, “that otherness might not be a source of anxiety and dread but a source of wonder”. He brought that wonder to life in 2017 in a powerful stage production at the Baxter Theatre, a cantata titled Madness: Songs of Hope and Despair that used his patients’ own words. It is a moving view of the unquiet mind, the anguish and, at times, elation of their suffering. “Madness is not shameful,” he writes. “It is dismaying and perplexing why extremes of human suffering should be considered shameful.”..

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