CFP: The ‘cause of the mentally ill’: Mediatisating and destigmatising madness in the second half of the 20th century

“This international conference aims to bring together multiple perspectives on the way in which madness and its forms of care were mediatised and discussed in the public arena in a context marked, in France as in other European countries, by profound transformations in the field of psychiatry and mental health policies.

Based on the observation that the media – press, radio, television – gave increasing prominence to mental health issues in the decades following the Second World War/WW2, the conference “Mediatising and destigmatising madness” will be an opportunity to shed light on the means used to raise awareness, among a wider audience, of mental pathologies and of the conditions under which they are treated, against the tenacious prejudices fed by sensational reports or by fictional works which, while they sometimes acknowledge an aesthetic dimension to madness, also convey a number of negative representations and stereotypes.

The challenge will also be to identify the actors of this media coverage: psychiatric professionals, politicians, journalists, photographers, reporters and documentary filmmakers, producers and directors, but also of associations of patients’ families or patients, who are sometimes led to form paradoxical alliances in order to advance “the cause of the mentally ill”. This implies, in addition to reforming the psychiatric institution and promoting new approaches and new treatments, awakening consciences by once again posing the issue of the rights and the dignity of individuals caught up in processes of stigmatization, marginalization or even disaffiliation from which it seems impossible to extricate themselves.

The objective is to analyse (1) the conditions for producing these media objects (radio or TV broadcasts, reports, interviews, testimonies, articles, professional films, conference cycles, etc.), which very often involve entering an institution with a sometimes undeserved reputation for being particularly closed, (2) their reception and impact, as well as (3) the procedures, devices and formats used to act on the representations of madness that are identified as a hindrance to the implementation of mental health policies.

Although the chronological framework chosen is that of the three decades following the end of WW2, presentations that propose a longer-term narrative or whose subject matter lies within or beyond these chronological boundaries will also be taken into consideration. In order to complete, contrast and clarify the French framework, papers on other European countries will also be welcome.

The conference will take place on the 20th et 21st of September 2023 in Strasbourg. Please send a 500-word abstract and a short CV to Marianna Scarfone ( by June 15th 2023.


Ce colloque international se propose de réunir des perspectives multiples autour de la façon dont la folie et ses formes de prise en charge ont été médiatisées et discutées dans l’arène publique dans un contexte marqué, en France comme dans d’autres pays d’Europe, par de profondes transformations du champ de la psychiatrie et des politiques de santé mentale.

Partant du constat que, dans les décennies qui suivent la Seconde Guerre mondiale, les médias – presse, radio, télévision – accordent une place croissante aux questions de santé mentale, le colloque Médiatiser et déstigmatiser la folie sera l’occasion de mettre au jour les moyens et les canaux mobilisés pour sensibiliser un large public aux pathologies mentales et à leurs manifestations et plus largement aux conditions de leur prise en charge, à rebours de préjugés tenaces alimentés par des faits divers traités sur un mode sensationnel ou par des œuvres fictionnelles qui, si elles reconnaissent parfois une dimension esthétique à la folie, véhiculent également nombre de représentations négatives et de stéréotypes.

L’enjeu sera également d’identifier les acteurs de cette entreprise de médiatisation portée par des professionnels de la psychiatrie, des politiques, des journalistes, des photographes, des reporters et des documentaristes, des producteurs et des réalisateurs mais aussi par des associations de familles de malades ou de malades, amenés parfois à nouer des alliances paradoxales afin de faire progresser « la cause des malades mentaux ». Celle-ci supposant, outre de réformer l’institution psychiatrique et de promouvoir de nouvelles approches et de nouveaux traitements, de réveiller les consciences en posant à nouveaux frais, dans une approche éthique, la question des droits et de la dignité d’individus pris dans des processus de stigmatisation, de marginalisation voire de désaffiliation dont il parait impossible de les extraire.

Il s’agira d’interroger les conditions de réalisation de ces objets médiatiques (émissions de radio ou de TV, reportages, interviews, témoignages, articles, films professionnels, cycles de conférence, etc.) qui supposent bien souvent de pénétrer à l’intérieur d’une institution réputée particulièrement fermée qui commence toutefois à s’ouvrir. Leur réception voire leurs retombées feront aussi l’objet d’une analyse approfondie, de même que les procédés, les dispositifs et les formats privilégiés pour agir sur les représentations de la folie identifiées comme un frein à la mise en œuvre de toute politique de santé mentale.

Si le cadre chronologique retenu est celui des Trente Glorieuses, les présentations qui proposeraient un récit de plus longue durée ou dont l’objet se situerait en-deçà ou au-delà de ces bornes chronologiques, seront également prises en considération. Afin d’éclairer et de compléter le contexte français, des communications portant sur d’autres pays européens seront également les bienvenues.

Le colloque aura lieu le 20 et 21 septembre 2023 à Strasbourg.

Les propositions de communications – de 500 mots maximum et accompagnées d’une brève présentation de l’auteur/autrice – sont à envoyer avant le 15 juin 2023 à Marianna Scarfone (”


The NECS 2023 Conference: Care – University of Oslo – 13.-17. of June 2023 

Panels from the Media and Mental Health workgroup, led by Mireille Berton & Bregt Lameris

Much as literature can “repair the world” (Gefen 2017), audiovisual cultures, practices, and imaginaries have, from the outset, tried repairing our conditions as victims, to fight against illness, to relieve our traumas, to foster our empathic inclination. By taking the opposite side of the discourse that laments the damaging effects of screens (analog and digital) on the psyche, these panels explore, through case studies, the restorative, healing and reconciling effects of audiovisual images in the field of mental health.

While moving images have often caused concern because of their suggestive power, they have also been perceived as a valuable tool for health education, and sometimes even for health itself. This is evidenced by the recommendations of doctors in defense of the motion pictures (Berton 2015, 2016. 2017; Toropova 2022), the construction, within hospital institutions, of spaces dedicated to cinematographic projections seen as a leisure activity supporting the mental balance of the patients (Hennefeld 2022), moving colors used to heal shell shock soldiers, such as Auroratone films (Pernuit 2021), or more recently the creation of multimedia or immersive dispositifs meant to represent mental illness such as Goliath. Playing with reality or have therapeutical effects (Cavaletti & Grossi 2020).

These panels invite us to reflect on the question of “care” understood in the broad sense at two levels: that of practices, discourses and representations regarding the therapeutic or restorative powers of the media; and that of the historical or archaeological approach, which consists of taking care of “fragile” objects such as films, images, sounds, media, audiovisual devices, etc. (Denis & Pontille 2022).


Article by Mary Hallock-Greenwalt published in Motion Picture News (August 1921)

Panel B2, 15th June, 11 am – Caring and Repairing through Audiovisual Images: Films and other Medias for Mental Health – Part I – Film and Video Chair: Mireille Berton (University of Lausanne)

  • Paper 1 –– Beatrice Irwin and the Therapeutic Culture of North American Screen Practices (1910–1940), Pierre-Jacques Pernuit (University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne)
  • Paper 2 — Caring Colours, Bregt Lameris (Open University of the Netherlands)
  • Paper 3 — Videotherapy through self-confrontation. Methods and approaches in the IAAPP (International Working Group for Audiovision in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy) 1977–1999, Renée Winter (Department of Contemporary History at the University of Vienna)
  • Paper 4 — Between self-help and how-to: reproductive (mental) health and prenatal care on film 1920s–1970s, Katrin Pilz (Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Digital History, Vienna)

Panel C2, 15th June, 14 pm – Caring for the Mentally Disordered; Learning Practice and Empathy from Mental Health Nursing Films Chair: Magdalena Zdrodowska (Jagiellonian University, Poland)

  • Paper 1 –– Papering over the cracks in nursing recruitment: a look at how films from the archives toe the line between fantasy and reality in mental healthcare, Angela Saward (Wellcome Collection, London)
  • Paper 2 –– Filming psychiatric nursing in Switzerland in the 1920s. A maieutic between “care” and “cure”, Raphaël Tinguely (University of Lausanne)
  • Paper 3 –– Studying research and teaching films in psychiatry: What practices of care?, Mireille Berton (University of Lausanne)

Panel D2, 16th June, 9 am – Caring and Repairing through Audiovisual Images: Films and other Medias for Mental Health – Part II – Digital Worlds Chair : Bregt Lameris (Open University of the Netherlands)

  • Paper 1 — On the Couch with Arielle and Mowgli. Therapeutic Narratives in Documentaries about Mental Illness, Janin Tschechel (University of Bonn)
  • Paper 2 The mediated practices and narratives of care. Artists and activists with disabilities under quarantine, Magdalena Zdrodowska (Jagiellonian University, Poland)
  • Paper 3 — Taking Care. VR, Immersiveness, Intimacy, Elisabetta Modena
  • Paper 4 –– Take Care of Your Digital Self: On the Usage of Virtual Reality in Contemporary Psychotherapy Practices, Federica Cavaletti & Giancarlo Grossi (University of Milan)

Panel I9, 17th June, 14 pm – Mental Health in Film and Television

  • Paper 1 – Everything Calls for Salvation: Caring for Mental Health among Adolescent through a TV Show, Romana Andó (Sapienza University of Rome) & Leonardo Campagna (Sapienza University of Rome)
  • Paper 2 – Consenting When in a Vulnerable Position: An Ethical Discussion on TV Participation, Kjersti Blehr Lånkan (Oslo Metropolitan University)
  • Paper 3 – Institutional Films From the Waldau’s Psychiatric Film Collections, or the Shift From the “Cure Gaze” to the “Care Gaze”, Elodie Murtas (University of Lausanne)
  • Paper 4 – Cinemas of Insanity: Popular Culture and the Precarization of Care, Simon Schleusener (Freie Universität Berlin)

“Media and Mental Health”, a call for proposals panel

NECS Conference Epistemic Media: Atlas, Archive, Network, Bucharest, National University of Theatre and Film, 22-26 June, 2022

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, many actors in the field of mental health have pointed out the risks that such a phenomenon poses to the psychological balance of citizens under such stress. At a time when the 5th wave of Covid-19 is raging, the question of how to visualize data on the circulation of the disease on a global scale is more important than ever. Often compared to the Spanish flu or even to the various plague epidemics of the Middle Ages, Covid-19, like other respiratory diseases that appeared at the turn of our century, is characterized by its invisibility. It is not only difficult to locate the origin of the virus, but also to track its circulation in a globalized world where a virus can survive over long distances.

COVID-19 Dashboard by John Hopkins University (screenshot of 22.12.21)

Similarly it is difficult, in our times of interconnectedness through media, to locate origins and truthfulness of knowledge, discourses circulating on the pandemic and the virus. With that in mind it is interesting to ask what role the audiovisual and social media play in exacerbating or, on the contrary, countering fears about the pandemic. As Kirsten Ostherr (Ostherr 2020) shows for the Zika Virus, social media can also encourage the development of counter-narratives about the consequences of the disease.

This leads to questions such as: How do current representations and discourses on contagion negotiate the problem of the virus’ elusiveness and what are the consequences on mental health? How do digital and social media contribute to changing the ways in which the disease is codified and represented? What rhetorics are used now and in the past to talk about viruses and what kind of emotions can this evoke? How does the knowledge produced by the media contribute to the impact of users’ mental health? To what extent can contagion be seen as a metaphor for the circulation of knowledge about the pandemic?

Old and new visual rhetorics of contagion

These questions are just a few examples inspired by the current pandemic, to encourage proposals to reflect on the role of (audio)visual media in the construction of mental health-related knowledge and norms. Because it is an epistemic practice that produces discourses on what is normal and what is pathological, it has a central role in social mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion. Therefore, we would like to question the ways in which the audiovisual media participate in drawing the boundaries between mental illness and health and what social, political and ideological issues underlie such processes.

Despite this important social role of media, research on audiovisual materials concerning mental health issues has long been a niche in media studies and medical humanities. A similar development can be noticed for research on mental health problems in relation to other media forms such as television, streaming platforms, telemedicine devices, social media, video games, etc. Since the 2000s interest in the relationship between audiovisual media and (mental) health has been growing, as shown by the ERC BodyCapital research program, the MedFilm platform, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and its Medicine on Screen collections and essays, the Wellcome collection or several important publications. More recently a new research project was funded on the Waldau collection in Switzerland. All these works show the vitality of a field of research that aims to understand the role of the media in the medical sciences, which contributes early on to modifying the epistemology of medicine and health.

The Eternal Fight (WHO, 1948)

Scholars from all areas of cinema and media studies, whether previously affiliated with NECS or new to the network, are invited to submit proposals, but NECS membership is a requirement.

Please submit your proposal before the 10th of January 2022, providing your name, email address, the title of the paper, an abstract (max. 300 words), key biographical references (max. 200 words), and a short bio (max. 150 words). Presentations last a maximum of 20 minutes, 15 minutes if the panel consists of 4 presenters.

Proposal has to be sent to and

Mireille Berton (UNIL) & Bregt Lameris (Open Universiteit, NL)


OSTHERR, Kirsten (2020), “Zika Virus, Global Health Communication, and Datasurveillance”, in Christian Bonah & Anja Laukötter (eds.), Body, Capital and Screens. Visual Media and the Healthy Self in the 20th Century, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 305-334.

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