Posts Tagged ‘ Great Britain ’

New Book – A History of Self-Harm in Britain by Chris Millard

Screenshot from 2015-12-02 20-41-34Chris Millard , historian at Queen Mary (London), has just published his PhD dedicated to the history of ‘attempted suicide as a cry for help’ in twentieth-century British psychiatry. The blurb reads

This book (…) is the first account of self-harming behaviour in its proper historical and political context. The rise of self-cutting and overdosing in the 20th century is linked to the sweeping changes in mental and physical health, and wider political context. The welfare state, social work, Second World War, closure of the asylums, even the legalization of suicide, are all implicated in the prominence of self harm in Britain. The rise of ‘overdosing as a cry for help’ is linked to the integration of mental and physical healthcare, the NHS, and the change in the law on suicide and attempted suicide. The shift from overdosing to self-cutting as the most prominent ‘self-damaging’ behaviour is also explained, linked to changes in hospital organization and the wider rise of neoliberal politics. Appreciation of history and politics is vital to understanding the psychological concerns over these self-harming behaviours.

Interestingly, the book is open access under a CC BY license. And here is the link to the full book.

Book announcement – Gender and Class in English Asylums, 1890-1914

image-service.aspLouise Hide, a Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck, just publishes a book on gender and class in British asylums. The blurb reads:

The Victorian period saw an unprecedented rise in the number of people who were committed to ‘lunatic asylums’. We know something of why this happened, but far less about what life was like inside these institutions. Louise Hide explores the influence of wider socio-economic change and new medical theories on the practices and processes, routines and rhythms of the asylum as it began its transition to the mental hospital. What made the patient admission process so traumatic? How did attendants respond to the arrival of female nurses on male wards? Why were so many doctors on the verge of a breakdown themselves? In this meticulously researched and intriguing work, Hide has opened a chink through which to glimpse the lives of patients, doctors and nursing staff inside two vast London county asylums during the turn of the twentieth century.

Psychiatry and the History of Riots

In the wake of the recents riots in England, social scientists and journalists have been quite prominent in offering their explanations for the looting and destruction.  Social psychologists and sociologists have, by and large, dominated the more scholarly discussions.  So it is interesting to recall that, as Hans Joachim Schneider pointed out in a 1992 article, two other sets of theories about riots have historically drawn their inspiration from clinical psychology and psychiatry:

2. According to the psychoanalytic social contagion theory, participants in riots are carried away by their subconscious, by their feelings, affects, or instincts.

3. Following the psychopathological convergence theory, individuals who share similar characteristics or abnormal traits, predispositions, or attitudes, or else members of social fringe groups gather in the riot situation.

Schneider cites no studies in this context, but it might be interesting to trace the history of these lines of argument emphasizing psychopathology, ones which now seem to be largely out of favor.  One might mention, for instance, Charles Mackay’s popular Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions, first published in 1841.  Perhaps readers can suggest other primary and secondary works in this area?

Hugh Freeman, 1930-2011

HUGH FREEMAN, 1930-2011

Obituaries have just been published of the psychiatrist and historian, Hugh Freeman, who died on the 4th May at the age of 81.

Freeman will probably be best known to list members as one of the founders of the journal, History of Psychiatry and the editor of a number of essay collections on the history of psychiatry in Britain.  These include the two volume, 150 Years of British Psychiatry (London: Gaskell/Athlone, 1991 and 1996) edited with German Berrios;  A Century of Psychiatry, (London: Mosby-Wolfe, 1999),  and Psychiatric Cultures Compared: Psychiatry and Mental Health Care in the Twentieth Century (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005) edited with Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra, Harry Oosterhuis and Joost Vijselaar.

After retiring as consultant psychiatrist to Salford Health Authority, Freeman was engaged in large scale history of psychiatric policy in post war Britain under the supervision of John Pickstone.  Parts of this work have been published including:

‘Mental Health: Policy and Practice in the NHS’, Journal of Mental Health 7.3 (1998): 225-39.

‘Mental Health Services in an English County Borough before 1974’, Medical History 28 (1984): 111-28.

The Times obituary was published on the 16 June but is only available to subscribers.  The Guardian obituary is open access here.

Dr Rhodri Hayward

School of History

Queen Mary, University of London


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