Monday, April 11, 2011

Songs with lyrics written by people with mental illnesses aims to combat stigma in Turkey

From Today's Zaman in Turkey:

A music album recently released by the Bakırköy Hospital for Psychiatric and Neurological Diseases in İstanbul aims to combat widespread prejudice against people with mental illnesses through “Düşünen Şarkılar” (Thinking Songs) with lyrics written by schizophrenic patients.

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about this hospital perhaps used to be Rodin’s “The Thinker” statue located in front of the hospital; however, now “Düşünen Şarkılar,” which has come into being as part of a social responsibility project, is a candidate for what one might think of when considering the hospital.

What makes this album different from others is that the lyrics on this album were written by schizophrenic patients who received or have been receiving treatment at the hospital, and two of the nine compositions on the album were composed entirely by schizophrenic patients.

The lyrics have been put to music by famous singers and groups such as Teoman, Betül Demir, Ahmet Özhana, Mercan & Rashit, Soner Arıca and Demet Sağıroğlu. The revenues from sales of the album will be transferred to the Bakırköy Mental Hospital Foundation to be used for the treatment of patients.

Associate Dr. Erhan Kurt, who is the head physician, said the album aims to make a contribution to the fight against the stigmatization of people with mental problems. He also noted the album is an effort to make the voices of the patients at the hospital be heard by the world thanks to the universal language of music.

Dr. Erhan Baş, general manager of Bilim İlaç, which supported the project, said the album project aims to draw attention to psychiatric illnesses, particularly to schizophrenia and show that psychiatric patients can accomplish things and be productive when they are given an opportunity to do so.

Experts say schizophrenia is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a mental disorder characterized by abnormalities in the perception or expression of reality. It most commonly manifests as auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions or disorganized speech and thinking with significant social or occupational dysfunction.

The album, produced by Hakan Eren, was prepared by psychiatric specialist Dr. Vedat Bilgiç and music teacher Volkan Uruk.

Providing information about the project, Bilgiç said: “We have a unit in the hospital where patients focus on writing poetry, music, handcrafts and other activities such as ceramics. We heard that some patients were writing songs and poetry, and we decided to turn them into songs we would then give to them as gifts. The project continued to grow, and in the end we had famous musicians involved.”

Recalling how they played the album when it was finished for the patients, Bilgiç says: “They were really happy and got emotional. Now, patients are constantly giving us poems.” The patients are identified only by their initials on the album as well as the number of the unit where they receive treatment.

The lyrics reflect the lives of psychiatric patients and are based on real life stories. They cover a number of subjects ranging from electro-shock treatment to smoking addiction, loneliness and longing for outside life.

For instance, a song named “Electro Shock” whose lyrics were written by İ.S. from the 24-A unit at the hospital is considered to be the first song in the world that depicts electro shock, which is commonly used in the treatment of people with mental illness, from the eyes of a patient. In the song, it is possible to see the patient’s mixed feelings of sorrow and self-mocking over his hospitalization in Bakırköy and receiving electro-shock treatment.

In another song, “Üsküdar Seaport,” the patient identified as R.G.Ö. from the 24-A unit, talks about his longing for Üsküdar where he spent almost 40 years of his life. Since he has been hospitalized in Bakırköy for years, and he has not had the opportunity to go to Üsküdar although he is in İstanbul. R.G.Ö. is said to know by heart the poems of famous Turkish poets and smoke 16 packages of cigarette every day.

The song titled “Ziyaret” (Visit), whose lyrics were written by Y.O. from the 34th unit, tells of the happiness of the patient over visits paid to him by his relatives on Saturdays. The song says the patients wait for Saturdays as if they are waiting for a festival because on this day they -- most of whom are cigarette addicts and cannot always afford to buy cigarettes -- receive cigarette packages and food from their relatives who come to the hospital to visit them.