Asylum: a magazine for democratic psychiatry in England

Spandler, Helen orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0970-5141 (2020) Asylum: a magazine for democratic psychiatry in England. In: Basaglia's International Legacy: From Asylum to Community. Oxford University Press (OUP), pp. 205-226. ISBN 9780198841012

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Most accounts of Franco Basaglia and Psichiatria Democratica tend to focus on the closure of the Asylums. Whilst this was clearly important, it would be a mistake to see the movement’s impact solely in terms of legal and administrative changes in ‘managing the mentally ill’. The movement provided inspiration and motivation to a new generation of mental health workers and activists keen to initiate social change - beyond dismantling the Asylum system. Whilst Psichiatria Democratica may have had little influence on mainstream British psychiatry, a significant number of mental health professionals, workers and activists in England took an active interest in the movement, especially Trieste, where the movement had its most profound impact. Arguably, Trieste played a significant role in radical mental health movements in England, both symbolically and physically (Harrington, 2008; Crossley, 1999). Most notably, it directly inspired Asylum: a quarterly ‘magazine for democratic psychiatry’ which was established in 1986. (The rest of this chapter just refers to it as Asylum).

This chapter uses my research into the first 30 years of Asylum to explore how it functioned – and, I argue, still functions - as a concrete legacy of Psichiatria Democratica. Although I wasn’t involved in setting up the magazine, I have been part of its editorial collective for over 20 years and am currently its managing editor. This gives me a unique vantage point through which to analyse these developments. I will use the contents of the magazine to explore the movement’s influence on the UK mental health field . Mirroring Psichiatria Democratica itself, where the movement was much stronger in Northern Italy, much of this influence occurred in the North of England where I highlight some specific developments. I will suggest that Asylum continues the struggle for democratic psychiatry, adapted for contemporary times. I have reservations about reinforcing the status of an individual male psychiatrist, Franca Basaglia, as so central to the movement, especially since he died before most of the major changes and impact occurred. However, given the focus of this book, and the importance of Basaglia’s writing to the movement, I will reference his work to make this case.

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