April 2020 JHMAS: Certification of Insanity, Student Mental Health, and Physiognomy of Mental Diseases

The April 2020 issue of Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences includes several articles of interest to AHP readers. Full details below.

“Just the Basic Facts: The Certification of Insanity in the Era of the Form K,” Filippo Maria Sposini. Abstract:

This paper investigates the certification of insanity through a standardized template called Form K which was used in Ontario between 1873 and 1883. My main thesis is that the introduction of the Form K had profound and long-lasting effects on the determination of insanity. In particular, it created a unique case in the history of certification, it grounded civil confinement on a strategy of consensus, and it informed mental health documentation for more than a century. As the result of a transnational mediation from Victorian England, the Form K prescribed an examination setting which involved a high number of participants, including three physicians and several witnesses. By comparing this case with other jurisdictions of the time, this paper shows how Ontario became a distinctive case worldwide. In order to get a closer look at this medico-legal procedure, I consider the archival records of the Toronto asylum and conclude that the certification of insanity relied on a strategy of consensus. While the Form K proved quite successful in preventing legal actions, it produced financial, logistic, and bureaucratic issues. The Form K was thus discontinued after a decade, yet its structure influenced Ontario’s mental health documentation throughout the twentieth century. This paper shows the relevance of the certification of insanity for transnational history and for understanding contemporary issues of involuntary confinement and stigma in mental health.

“Strange Cases: Jekyll & Hyde Narratives as Rhetorical Strategy in Sir Alexander Morison’s Physiognomy of Mental Diseases,” Madeline Bourque Kearin. Abstract:

Sir Alexander Morison’s Physiognomy of Mental Diseases (1838) was created as a didactic tool for physicians, depicting lunatics in both the active and dormant states of disease. Through the act of juxtaposition, Morison constituted his subjects as their own Jekylls and Hydes, capable of radical transformation. In doing so, he marshaled artistic and clinical, visual and textual approaches in order to pose a particular argument about madness as a temporally manifested, visually distinguishable state defined by its contrast with reason. This argument served a crucial function in legitimizing the emergent discipline of psychiatry by applying biomedical methodologies to the observation and classification of distinctly physical symptoms. Robert Louis Stevenson’s “quintessentially Victorian parable” serves as a metaphor for the way 19th-century alienists conceptualized insanity, while the theme of duality at the core of Stevenson’s story serves as a framework for conceptualizing both psychiatry and the subjects it generates. It was (and is) a discipline formulated around narrative as the primary organizing structure for its particular set of paradoxes, and specifically, narratives of the self as a fluid, dynamic, and contradictory entity.

“Historicising the “Crisis” in Undergraduate Mental Health: British Universities and Student Mental Illness, 1944–1968,” Sarah Crook. Abstract:

This article explores how and why student mental health became an issue of concern in British universities between 1944 and 1968. It argues that two factors drew student mental health to the attention of medical professionals across this period: first, it argues that the post-war interest in mental illness drew attention to students, who were seen to be the luminaries of the future, investing their wellbeing with particular social importance. Second, it argues that the development of university health services made students increasingly visible, endorsing the view that higher education posed distinctive yet shared mental challenges to young people. The article charts the expansion of services and maps the implications of the visibility of student mental distress for post-war British universities. It suggests that claims that British higher education is currently in the midst of an unprecedented mental health “crisis” should be seen within this broader historical context, for while the contours of the debates around student mental health have shifted substantially, evidence that there was anxiety around student mental wellbeing in the immediate post-war years undermines accusations that contemporary students constitute a unique “snowflake generation.”

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.