March 2021 History of Psychiatry: Sexual Abuse by Asylum Staff, ‘Psychosis of civilization’, and More

The March 2021 issue of History of Psychiatry is now available one. Full details below.

“The history of mental health policy in Turkey: tradition, transition and transformation,” Merve Kardelen Bilir, Fatih Artvinli. Abstract:

This article offers a brief history and the evolution of mental health policy in Turkey. It aims to analyse how mental health policies were transformed and why certain policies were introduced at specific times. The modern history of mental health policy is divided into three periods: the institutionalization of psychiatry and hospital-based mental health services; the introduction of community-based mental healthcare services; and lastly, the policy of deinstitutionalization after the 1980s. These periods have been categorized in a way that basically coincides with Turkey’s modern political history.

“The mentally ill and how they were perceived in young Israel,” Oded Heilbronner. Abstract:

The article constitutes a widely researched account of mental patients and their perceptions in the early history of Israel, especially its second decade. It focuses on a single generation, which experienced the traumas of war in Europe, followed by insecurity in Israel’s struggle for independence. The article claims that in the 1960s many suffered from depression, reflected in a record number of patients in mental hospitals and mentally sick people, mostly of European origin. This study describes Israeli society in the 1960s as disturbed, immersed in nightmarish dreams and close to madness; it also discusses the genetic and neurological vulnerabilities which induced the psychosis and the social response that converted it into a chronic illness.

“How did mental health become so biomedical? The progressive erosion of social determinants in historical psychiatric admission registers,” Fritz Handerer, Peter Kinderman, Carsten Timmermann, Sara J Tai. Abstract:

This paper explores the historical developments of admission registers of psychiatric asylums and hospitals in England and Wales between 1845 and 1950, with illustrative examples (principally from the archives of the Rainhill Asylum, UK). Standardized admission registers have been mandatory elements of the mental health legislative framework since 1845, and procedural changes illustrate the development from what, today, we would characterize as a predominantly psychosocial understanding of mental health problems towards primarily biomedical explanations. Over time, emphasis shifts from the social determinants of admission to an asylum to the diagnosis of an illness requiring treatment in hospital. We discuss the implications of this progressive historical diminution of the social determinants of mental health for current debates in mental health care.

“‘Psychosis of civilization’: a colonial-situated diagnosis,” Marianna Scarfone. Abstract:

In the late 1930s, when colonial psychiatry was well established in the Maghreb, the diagnosis ‘psychosis of civilization’ appeared in some psychiatrists’ writings. Through the clinical case of a Libyan woman treated by the Italian psychiatrist Angelo Bravi in Tripoli, this article explores its emergence and its specificity in a differential approach, and highlights its main characteristics. The term applied to subjects poised between two worlds: incapable of becoming ‘like’ Europeans – a goal to which they seem to aspire – but too far from their ‘ancestral habits’ to revert for a quiet life. The visits of these subjects to colonial psychiatric institutions, provided valuable new material for psychiatrists: to see how colonization impacted inner life and to raise awareness of the long-term socio-political dangers.

“Sexual abuse by superintending staff in the nineteenth-century lunatic asylum: medical practice, complaint and risk,” Cara Dobbing, Alannah Tomkins. Abstract:

The nineteenth century witnessed a great shift in how insanity was regarded and treated. Well documented is the emergence of psychiatry as a medical specialization and the role of lunatic asylums in the West. Unclear are the relationships between the heads of institutions and the individuals treated within them. This article uses two cases at either end of the nineteenth century to demonstrate sexual misdemeanours in sites of mental health care, and particularly how they were dealt with, both legally and in the press. They illustrate issues around cultures of complaint and the consequences of these for medical careers. Far from being representative, they highlight the need for further research into the doctor–patient relationship within asylums, and what happened when the boundaries were blurred.

“‘The voice of the stomach’: the mind, hypochondriasis and theories of dyspepsia in the nineteenth century,” E Allen Driggers. Abstract:

Physicians and surgeons during the nineteenth century were eager to explore the causes of stomach and intestinal illnesses. Theories abounded that there was a sympathy between the mind and the body, especially in the case of the dyspepsia. The body was thought to have physical symptoms from the reactions of the mind, especially in the case of hypochondriasis. Digestive problems had a mental component, but mental anguish could also result from physical problems. Dissertations from aspiring as well as established physicians probed the mental causes of irritable bowel diseases and other diseases in the medical literature. Healing was thought to come from contextualizing the link between the problems of the mind and the resulting physical problems of the body.

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.