Colonial Psychiatry 2 – Colonial psychiatry over time and space

At the end of the last podcast I explained what was special about colonial psychiatry from the 1880s to the 1960s, compared with mental medicine in the United Kingdom.

1) Continuing medical pluralism
2) Limited institutionalization of patients and professionalization of services
3) Persistently low resources
4) Attempts to introduce European-style practices of care
5) Racism

Today I’m going to deal with the first three of these points.

An important theme in my podcasts on the history of psychiatry in the United Kingdom is the enduring importance of different ways of dealing with the mad, including religious healing and traditional talking therapies as well as formal or learned medicine. Medical pluralism meant that there was in effect a marketplace for therapies, chosen according to availability of practitioners, the cost of treatment, the nature of the condition, the person experiencing it, and the social context in which the illness had presented itself. Biomedicine gained dominance only in the nineteenth century.

I then go on to explain how the care of insane people in institutions came very late to much of colonial Africa and psychiatry as a specialisation later still. Finally, I talk about the experience of white people who went mad, because it is an important counterpoint to race and racism, which will be the subject of next week’s third of the four podcasts in this mini-series.

Image: male patients, Zomba hospital courtyard, copyright Daniel Maissan,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *