Dickens’ characters on the couch: an example of teaching psychiatry using literature

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The value of literature in medical education is widely accepted by medical teachers. There are examples of psychopathology in the characters of novels that provide illustrations of particular psychiatric diagnoses. Characters created by Charles Dickens, often eccentric, have been deemed to suffer from mental disorders. This may be because Dickens could draw on his extensive contact with Victorian psychiatry and interest in psychopathology to create authentic characters. He is widely acknowledged to have described many other medical conditions in his fiction and his writing is already used to teach medical students. This article reviews Dickens’ contact with psychiatry and outlines the mental disorders possibly suffered by the characters under ICD 10 diagnostic headings. These descriptions, while interesting in their own right, may also prove useful to clinicians and teachers.

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