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Last Updated: Monday, 31 January 2005, 14:32 GMT
Crazy Radio gives patients voice
By Nicola Fell
BBC correspondent, Argentina

Saturday afternoon in Buenos Aires: tucked away behind the towering, prison-like Jose Borda psychiatric hospital, a large group of people is gathering.

Julio Diaz, one of Radio La Colifata's main presenters (Picture by Nicola Fell)
Outpatient Julio Diaz is one of the main presenters and coordinators
Under the shade of a tree, a haphazard radio studio is being put together.

This is Radio La Colifata, which in Buenos Aires slang means Crazy Radio - the first radio show in the world to broadcast live from a mental hospital.

Julio Cesar is one of the show's presenters.

He admitted himself to the hospital 10 years ago, when he sank into deep depression after losing his eight-month-old daughter.

"I didn't want to live, work, eat, or leave the house," he says. "My family didn't understand me. My family was censoring me and being in the house was making me ill.

"So I preferred to be here, where I had total freedom to express myself."

Speech therapy

Alfredo Olivera, a psychologist who created Radio La Colifata, explains how it all began: "I simply used a small Dictaphone.

They aren't so crazy as people often think - they say things that are spot on
Hector Eduardo Costa,
Listener
"I invited some patients to sit around a table and speak about whatever they wanted. The only thing they had to do was, if they wanted to talk, they had to have the Dictaphone in their hand and when they were finished pass it to another.

"This, as a concept, already had a therapeutic element - the right to speak and giving the right to another."

Mr Cesar believes that for his own recovery, it was more powerful than drugs.

"The doctors are very technical," he says. "They give you a pill and tell you to sleep, and then you are cancelled out.

"The radio releases you and the wall around the hospital no longer exists. The antenna knocks it down."

Popular

More than a therapy, the show has proven popular with an estimated 12 million listeners.

Taxi driver Hector Eduardo Costa listens as he works through the night.

I thought they would say: 'Hey, look at the crazy guy,' but it's the opposite - they embrace me in the streets
Hugo Norberto Lopez,
Presenter
He says: "They aren't so crazy as people often think. They say things that are spot on. Sometimes they write poems, sing songs, and it is very interesting."

Away from the media limelight, the hospital says the show has had great therapeutic results.

Thirty percent of patients who participate are released, and not one of these patients who continues outpatient therapy at Radio La Colifata has been readmitted.

That compares with two-thirds of patients being readmitted if they do not continue outpatient therapy with the radio, its creator Mr Olivera says.

The Radio La Colifata team are now trying their hand at television, with their debut on Canal 7, as part of its health programme.

Patient Hugo Norberto Lopez is presenting as part of his outpatient treatment.

He believes Radio La Colifata plays an important educational role in society: "It de-mystifies mental illness.

"In my district, I thought they would say: 'Hey, look at the crazy guy,' but it's the opposite. They embrace me in the streets and congratulate me. It shows people are beginning to understand."




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