Mental Health: Inside/Out - Letter from the Editors

Mental Health: Inside/Out - Letter from the Editors

“I do not like these patients [with schizophrenia] … I feel them to be so far distant from me and from everything human,”[*] Sigmund Freud wrote in a letter at the beginning of the previous century. For such a colossal figure in mental health matters, this callousness is jaw-dropping, but what it illustrates is the extensiveness of prejudice towards people suffering from illnesses of the mind. These days we try to pluck the stigma that’s so deeply rooted in our history from our daily thoughts and actions. We work at dismantling preconceptions through art.

The response to our call for poetry on the topic of mental health showed an overwhelming desire to deal with the idea and reality of mental health through the art of poetry.  From writers diagnosed with bipolar disorder to poets listening and observing loved ones or strangers with care, every variation of perspective was represented in the over 300 people who submitted their work. Several of the poems brought me to tears and many others left me pondering some neglected corner of the concept of mental health.  We step back and see with the help of Megan Burns “the asylum in the landscape /in a poor man’s rags / haunted places / have crossed frontiers is what madness is” but up close we see a patient as someone, in Susan McCaslin’s words, “with another way of being in the world.” Language is set ablaze in Marc di Saverio’s poems Code Yellow and Weekend Pass. Additionally, there are visual perspectives with Jason McLean’s ludic lines and Gary Barwin’s reinterpretation of the brain.  These and the other writers selected engage in the topic of mental health in their own indelible ways.

I hope you enjoy the poems and their progress towards helping us understand language in finer detail along with all the vagaries and varieties of experience that people suffer and celebrate. When we listen to these forms of expression we can find voices unique but not too distant from everything that is us.

Poetry is Dead. Long live Poetry.

-Kevin Spenst

“[M]adness can sometimes be a legitimate response to an unjust society.” So says Geoffrey Reaume in the March 2013 issue of The Walrus[i]. We don’t mean to romanticize suffering. But we also acknowledge that what we call “madness” or “mental health problems” or “mental illness” cuts across all subjective strata, and that it may be situationally triggered or exacerbated by injustice, by lack of support, and by silence. Jacob Wren writes, “Maybe if we talked about it more we’d be less depressed. I don’t know. One part of me thinks depression is a reasonable reaction to the current state of the world, and the other part thinks it’s only a disease or a waste of time.”

In Karlene Harvey’s “Working for INAC,” we see vicarious trauma, how “being exposed to research full of abuse and constitutional wrong-doing takes its toll.” Claire Lacey’s sentence fragments mimic the inner voice’s relentless chatter. “Fog salad.” Sean Braune’s “fourth bouquet” builds dizzying and breathless to an ending without relief. Satoshi Iwai’s prose pieces are sparse and lucid, then surreal. Natalie Simpson’s “How to Thrive” turns therapeutic, self-help language back in on itself.

These and the other writers in the Inside folio present pieces that confront what it means to be mentally healthy and mentally unhealthy. Hopefully they will inspire us all to talk more openly about our vulnerabilities and our struggles.

- Nikki Reimer


[*] Quoted in M. Shur, The Id and the Regulatory Principle of Mental Functioning (London, Hogarth, 1967), p.21.


[i] Rachel Giese. “The New Normal.” The Walrus March 2013. Reaume, current associate professor of critical disability studies at Toronto’s York University, has schizophrenia, and was institutionalized in his teens.