Cite as: Lisa Appignanesi, ‘Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors’, lecture presented at the conference Situating Mental Illness: Between Scientific Certainty and Personal Narrative, ICI Berlin, 28 April 2011, part 1, video recording, mp4, 21:13 <>
28 Apr 2011

Mad, Bad and Sad

A History of Women and the Mind Doctors
By Lisa Appignanesi
This is the story of how we have understood extreme states of mind over the last two hundred years and how we conceive of them today, when more and more of our inner life and emotions have become a matter for medics and therapists. Examples range from the depressions suffered by Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath to the mental anguish and addictions of iconic beauties like Zelda Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. From Théroigne de Méricourt, the Fury of the Gironde, who descended from the bloody triumphs of the French Revolution to untameable insanity in La Salpetrière asylum, to Mary Lamb, sister of Charles, who in the throes of a nervous breakdown turned on her mother with a kitchen knife. From Freud and Jung and the radical breakthroughs of psychoanalysis to Lacan’s construction of a modern movement and the new women-centred therapies.

Lisa Appignanesi is a London-based novelist, writer and broadcaster. A former university lecturer and Deputy Director of London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, she is now the chair of the Freud Museum and President of English PEN, the founding centre of the world association of writers. Her novels include the prize-winning The Memory Man, the psychological thrillers Paris Requiem, Sanctuary, and The Dead of Winter. Her non-fiction ranges from the critically acclaimed family memoir, Losing the Dead to the classic study, Freud’s Women (with John Forrester). Her books have been translated into many languages. Her book Mad, Bad and Sad has been short-listed for five prizes in the United Kingdom, including the prestigious MIND award and won the British Medical Association Award for the Public Understanding of Science. Her latest book, All about Love: Anatomy of an Unruly Emotion has been published by Virago/Little Brown (2011).


ICI Berlin
(Click for further documentation)

Organized by

Giovanni Frazzetto
An ICI Berlin event in collaboration with the European Neuroscience and Society Network (formerly European Science Foundation)

Video in English

Part 1

Format: mp4
Length: 00:21:13
First published on:
Rights: © ICI Berlin

Part of the Conference

Situating Mental Illness: Between Scientific Certainty and Personal Narrative

Contemporary neuroscience reduces mental illness to brain-based operations, instantiating a division between biology and culture, mechanism and context, brain and biography. This has the effect of marginalising a richer, inner-subjective complex of individual meaning, personal history and narrative. This meeting surveys recent significant shifts in biological psychiatry methods for the assessment of mental illness and questions their validity and limitations.
It also explores nuances and interstices between the regard of psychiatric disorders as neurochemical flaws or experiential conditions, the cultural history of psychopathologies and how brain-based accounts of mental illness circulate in the public domain and are incorporated in culture.

The meeting unfolds into three main sessions:

1. Tensions of Diagnosis
The current neuroscience set of co-circulating methods including diagnostic categories, behaviour rating scales, animal models and biological markers implies a superimposition of subjective symptoms, neurochemical markers and objective endophenotypology.  What are the advantages and limitations to the introduction of biological measures in DSM-V? What are their repercussions for epidemiology, criteria of inclusion in trials and treatment? The scope of this session is to illustrate difficulties conciliating validity/reliability of measurements with respect for heterogeneity in disease manifestation, both at the biological and phenomenological level and to bring emerging evidence from clinical, epidemiological and biological research, as well as sociological analysis.

2. Voices from Within
The second session will be specifically devoted to exploring nuances and interstices between psychiatric disorder as neurochemical flaws and experiential condition, which have gone lost in favour of measurability, and thus standardization.
Attention will be given to the role of narratives and personal accounts in illustrating differences in severity and sequence of symptoms as well as values and motivations among patients behind biological interpretation of illness, and pharmaceutical treatment.

3. Neurotransmitters and Psychopathology in History and Culture
In the final session, we will explore the history of certain psychopathologies and how brain-based accounts of mental illness circulate in the public domain and are incorporated in culture. What ideas and representations of ‘illness’ do biological interpretations let circulate in culture? How are they welcomed, endorsed or resisted by the general public? What scientific or commonsensical ideas do we live by to describe and explain illness, and what is their valence?


ICI Berlin
(Click for further documentation)


Lisa Appignanesi
Noga Arikha
Lisa Blackman
Laura Bossi
Felicity Callard
Trudy Dehue
John Forrester
Allen Frances

Organized by

Giovanni Frazzetto
An ICI Berlin event