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Lunatics and Asylums

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Abstract

The history of the mental illness services is dominated by reformers and paid professionals — the keepers, nurses, psychiatrists, etc. Rarely is the voice of the ‘lunatic’ heard except through the traditional case studies, where little sense of a whole person is ever revealed — only a ragbag of unusual symptoms to illustrate some treasured thesis of the writer. We hear the voice of the victors, not that of the victims, and rarely appreciate the intimate and subtle relationships between them. There is some deep truth in that caustic comment of Florence Nightingale about Shaftesbury, the nineteenth-century social reformer: ‘Lord Shaftesbury would have been in an asylum had he not devoted himself to reforming them’ (Skultans, 1979, p. 98). Professionals and patients, keepers and lunatics, develop a strange sort of dependency on one another.

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© David Brandon 1991

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