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Psychiatry in the city

Inside and outside


For centuries, cartographers of every faith and culture have projected symbols of human fears onto the sky. Somewhere in the infinite expanses of space, their maps say, the answer to our finite problems awaits.

Inside your mind, everything may be a crazy whirl. But if you look outside to the horizon, the sky and the clouds, they can draw you out of yourself. In lockdown, the physical inside was where we all lived. We were allowed to go for walks, but strongly advised to stay at home. That does something to people – especially those with mental illnesses, or with limited support, like status holders who still have to start processing the past and building a bond with their new country. And life’s wanderers.

These vulnerable groups have often been hidden somewhere in the folds of our society in normal times, and now they are invisible again. Mental vulnerability is rarely visible to anyone else. Depression makes you spend dark days inside, with your front door locked, and doesn’t make newspaper headlines.

Psychiatric hospitals were closed, and clinics and daycare centres were transformed into corona-free fortresses, more like prisons than refuges. Suddenly, vulnerable people saw glass screens, facemasks, and gloves everywhere, like a dystopian science fiction movie. If you were confused, you might think the world had become afraid of you.

So people had to keep their distance when they so desperately needed human warmth, a smile, understanding eyes. They saw only walls and perhaps a tree from the window, and tantalizing glimpses of open sky. For many, the newsletter delivered every week was their contact with the outside world, something to hold on to. The postman with a map of heaven.

Text by Hanne Hagenaars




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