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CeDR Seminar: Vicky Long Blossoming into 'Real People'? Framing Schizophrenia as Chronic Illness or Disability in the Context of Social and Economic Rehabilitation, 1945-1980

Date: 2 March 2010 Time: 16.00-17.00 pm

Venue: Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS) Meeting Room 1

Speaker: Dr Vicky Long, Research Associate and Outreach Officer,Centre for the History of Science, University of Manchester.

Title: Blossoming into 'Real People'? Framing Schizophrenia as Chronic Illness or Disability in the Context of Social and Economic Rehabilitation, 1945-1980

Venue: Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS) Meeting Room 1 (building 17 on the campus access map)

Abstract: Schizophrenia emerged as a diagnostic label in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century psychiatric practice which grouped together a number of behavioural and psychological symptoms, hypothesising that all stemmed from a sole organic disorder. Schizophrenia, as elaborated by these psychiatrists, was a chronic and degenerative illness which inexorably dehumanised its sufferers.

From the late 1950s onwards, mental health care policy began to focus on rehabilitating and ultimately resettling hospital patients into the community. Psychiatrists seeking to rehabilitate long-stay patients diagnosed with schizophrenia consequently began to explore their capabilities and aptitudes. John Wing, director of the Social Psychiatry Unit, suggested that many of the problems experienced by patients diagnosed with schizophrenia and many of the symptoms they displayed were not natural products of a disease process but resulted from the interaction between individuals and their social environment. Individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia had secondary social disabilities, which could be alleviated by manipulating their environment.

Employment was seen as a crucial means to reintegrate patients into social life and thus psychiatrists began to experiment with methods to prepare patients for their future role of employee in a workplace environment. Here, mental health care rehabilitation dovetailed with existing systems of industrial rehabilitation inaugurated by the Ministry of Labour which had been designed to assist people with physical disabilities seeking to rejoin the workforce. I will argue that the convergence of these two ideologies of rehabilitation subtly transformed understandings of schizophrenia into a condition which was perceived as both chronic and disabling. Schemes operated through the Ministry of Labour measured success in terms of cost and number of individuals placed in work. Consequently, little attention was paid as to whether employment fulfilled any psychological function for psychiatric 'rehabilitees', who were frequently placed in the types of monotonous and repetitive work often implicated as a cause of neurosis. Because schizophrenia had been defined as chronic and disabling, individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia were perceived as 'difficult' cases to place and were frequently marginalised by Ministry of Labour officials keen to bolster 'success' rates.

About Vicky: As research associate and outreach officer for the Centre for the History of Science Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester, I work in partnership with local institutions and community groups to develop events which draw upon historical knowledge. My research explores the politics of health care services in twentieth-century Britain, focusing on industrial and mental health. I am interested in how the discussions which took place within and between groups with a vested interest in health care services were influenced by economic and political circumstances, and how these discussions in turn shaped health care policy and the representation of health and illness.



Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Associated staff: Eric Emerson, Chris Hatton, Hannah Morgan, Donna Reeve, Bob Sapey, Carol Thomas

Organising departments and research centres: Applied Social Science, Centre for Disability Research CeDR, Division of Health Research

Keywords: Mental health, Mental health services


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