From Scotland to Siberia

I came across this headline in today's paper [I have altered it slightly]. This headline reminded me of a visit that I took last year to Siberia! This was in the months before I decided to fully retire as a doctor.

[To play my short film SIBERIA please click here or on the image above]

The Porsolt Forced Swimming Test (Behavioural Despair Test) is centred on rodents’ response to the threat of drowning. It has been interpreted as measuring susceptibility to negative mood in humans. It is commonly used to measure the effectiveness of antidepressants in rats.

The following is a poem written by me about this test. I wrote it in my mind on my way to Siberia. Once at Siberia I jotted it down in my commonplace notebook. This Siberia is a farm, now a ruin, in the East Neuk of Fife. It should not be confused with the extensive geographical region spanning much of Eurasia and North Asia.

The poem recounts the friendship of two rats: one rat is called ‘Hippocraticus’ and the other rat ‘583’. Hippocrates is often referred to as the “Father of Medicine”. Agnes Richter was a psychiatric patient and seamstress. She made herself a jacket whilst under psychiatric care. It seems that she was known as ‘patient 583’ and so she stitched this label into her jacket.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has stated that “We know that in the vast majority of patients, any unpleasant symptoms experienced on discontinuing antidepressants have resolved within two weeks of stopping treatment”.

Dr William Sargant (1907-1988) was a British psychiatrist who is remembered for the evangelical zeal with which he promoted treatments such as psychosurgery, deep sleep treatment, electroconvulsive therapy and insulin shock therapy. He wrote, with Dr Eliot Slater, the influential Textbook: “An introduction to physical methods of treatment in psychiatry”.

“Real Psychiatry” is a blog written by an American Psychiatrist. In terms of psychiatry in the UK a new textbook is to be published this month: it is titled “The Medical Model in Mental Health: An Explanation and Evaluation”


Aye its cauld, like Siberia! Says rodent ‘583’
So keep swimming Hippocraticus
ye wud’nae want to SINK.

Keep swimmin’ Hippocraticus
We’re being ‘evaluated’ did ye nae ken?
And all will be ‘resolved’ when we stop

Did ye nae hear:
Dr Sargant is giving a talk on ‘values and feeling valued’
Aifter a plush dinner at some Royal Society or anither!
So keep swimming Hippocraticus.

There’s gan tae be a Text book aboot us –
it will “explain” how we feel
based on the new brain cells that grew in oor brains
before we drooned.
The Text book is to be called “REAL PSYCHIATRY”

Keep swimming Hippocraticus!
“The Rules of Science”
are credible
and we
are not.

“I am sae tired 583
I don’t hae strength to swim much longer
Gie me a ‘choppy sea’ any day
tae P O R S O L T”

Keep swimming Hippocraticus! [rodent 583 is close to tears]
The imbalance is not oors.

Hippocraticus [sinking]
Is now dead.
[Dr Sargant enters the laboratory
and prepares the PORSOLT glass beaker for 583.]

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