Psycho-colonialism: colonisation in mental health

Penson, William Joseph (2019) Psycho-colonialism: colonisation in mental health. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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This thesis develops and contributes to an emerging field of postcolonial critique in the mental health field. Colonisation has been described as an issue for the Global South through the activities of western disciplines alongside business interests like ‘Big Pharma’. I argue that psychiatric practices are also colonising processes in the Global North: what I call psycho-colonisation. This thesis begins by outlining a rationale for interdisciplinary engagement with psycho-colonisation which includes drawing on postcolonial theory and activism, and examining colonisation processes through literature. I then review literature in two areas: Firstly, I assess the status and use of postcolonial thinking in the mental health arena. Secondly, I review (counter) canonical postcolonial thinkers selected on the basis of their engagement in resistance. In doing so, I establish a thematic scheme for assessing colonising processes. Humanities have a central role in both the colonisation process and resistance, and so I turn to a critical analysis of two writers’ work and what they tell about madness and psycho-colonisation. First, I critique Sebastian Faulks’ Human Traces (2005) as an exemplar of a traditional psychiatric discourse. I argue that Faulks’ novels aim to present a literary, historically authentic picture that inducts the reader into psychiatric orthodoxy. Colonisation exists in his writing at the level of producing a cultural power/knowledge effect. Secondly, I examine the works of Toni Morrison, specifically The Bluest Eye (1970) and God help the Child (2015), as examples of how madness is written about without recourse to traditional psychiatry, but with reference to socio-psychological and political contexts. For the most part, Morrison avoids psycho-colonisation. I conclude that there is a rationale for the use of postcolonial scholarship as a critical discourse in the mental health field. In addition, I show how the processes of colonisation through novels can be evident in the literatures of the Global North, and argue that the effect is one of a subtle induction of readers to psychiatric thinking and practices.

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