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The Politics of Mental Health in Italy

The Politics of Mental Health in Italy (Hardback)

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In 1978 the Italian Parliament passed a law effectively closing public mental hospitals throughout the country. This has been the most radical attempt undertaken anywhere to 'de-institutionalize' the mentally ill. What brought Italy to take this dramatic step is the first question which The Politics of Mental Health in Italy addresses. In fact the Italian psychiatric system was hardly well prepared for such a radical initiative. The psychiatric profession was oriented toward inpatient care in what were largely still rather traditional or backward custodial institutions; social psychiatry and varieties of comunity care had only recently been introduced, and had developed only on a small scale and in a few places. What distinguidhed the Italian situation, however, was a strongly politicized mass social movement on behalf of mental patients. Far broader than comparable 'anti-psychiatry' currents elsewhere, this movement not only engaged a sizeable proportion of mental health professionals, but was also successful in constructing wide-ranging alliances which linked the struggle for mental patients with other demands and reforms in health care and in social assistance.

The results of the Italian initiative have been quite mixed. Where there had been a strong movement in place before 1978, the phasing out of mental hospitals helped to encourage further alternative varieties of older treatment methods before new ones were developed or diffused. The second aim of the book is to comment on the resutls of the law, more than a decade after the passage and to assess prospects for the future. The Politics of Mental Health in Italy is based on first-hand acquaintance with a variety of psychiatric institutions in Italy, on interviews with mental health professionals and administrators, and on wide reading in representative printed sources. Given the topicality of the theme, the book may well be of interest not only to mental health workers but to others professioanlly engaged in social policy or in the study of deviance and social control. Since the 1978 law was one the principal offshoots of the late-60s protests, the topic also offers an interesting case study which reveals a good deal about modern Italian society and politics, and about the cycle of mobilization in collective movements.

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