New SHM: Mental Hygiene Guidance Centres, Political Recognition for Dyslexia, and Mental Health in Socialist Yugoslavia

The recently published November 2020 issue of Society History of Medicine includes three articles that may interest AHP readers. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

Helping Troubled Children and Cultivating the Race: The Mental Hygienic Guidance Centres of the Public Health Association of Swedish Finland, 1930s–1950s,” Sophy Bergenheim. Abstract:

This article looks at the mental hygienic guidance centres of the Public Health Association of Swedish Finland (Samfundet Folkhälsan, or Folkhälsan for short). For Folkhälsan, mental hygiene was a part of a broader context, in which public health and racial hygiene were fundamentally motivated by Finland-Swedish minority nationalism. Folkhälsan’s mental hygienic ideas are illuminated through the interrelated frames of degeneration and social engineering. The former portrayed mental and social deviance as a social, biological and moral threat to the collective, whereas the latter saw social behaviour, including maladjustment, as a phenomenon that could be influenced. For Folkhälsan’s mental hygienists, it was central to determine type and degree of abnormality; whether the clients were socially maladjusted ‘problem children’ or ‘feeble-minded children’. In both cases, the problem was seen to be caused by (lower-class) parents: through incompetent parenting and/or by passing on poor mental qualities to their offspring.

Literacy, Advocacy and Agency: The Campaign for Political Recognition of Dyslexia in Britain (1962–1997),” Philip Kirby. Abstract:

This article charts the campaign for political recognition of dyslexia in Britain, focusing on the period from 1962 when concerted interest in the topic began. Through the Word Blind Centre for Dyslexic Children (1963–72), and the organisations that followed, it shows how dyslexia gradually came to be institutionalised, often in the face of government intransigence. The article shows how this process is best conceived as a complex interplay of groups, including advocates, researchers, civil servants and politicians of varying political stripes. Necessarily, the campaign was mediated through broader political, economic and social changes, including the increasing requirement for literacy in the productive worker, but it is not reducible to these factors. In this way, the article reflects on the conceptualisation of power and agency in accounts of the history of dyslexia to date and its broader relevance to the history of learning difficulties and disabilities.

The Curious Case of Aleksandar Milivojevi?: The Donja Toponica Hospital and Mental Health in Socialist Yugoslavia,” Ivan Simic. Abstract:

This article uncovers the appalling situation in Yugoslav mental hospitals in the early period of Yugoslav socialism, demonstrating that Yugoslav psychiatry suffered from rife structural problems and malpractices. By examining the case of the Toponica hospital, the article shows that patients were regularly abused and beaten while living in very harsh conditions. Patients were overmedicated, therapies administered by illiterate staff, medical histories poorly recorded and hospitals overcrowded and understaffed, while often no attempts were made for the patients’ healing and rehabilitation. On the other hand, Yugoslav psychiatrists closely followed the trends in global psychiatry, testing new therapies, while the movement for mental hygiene gained significant traction. Nevertheless, high hopes for improving the patients’ well-being were far from practice. Once the scandal at the Toponica hospital erupted in 1955, it caused changes in the management and brought in more resources, but the structural problems of Yugoslav psychiatry remained.

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.