One of our readers wrote to us recently objecting to our ‘democratic psychiatry’ tag. They said, “Democratic psychiatry is an oxymoron.” The ASYLUM collective only very mildly objected to being called ‘morons’ and so, in good humour (and all seriousness), we decided to take this opportunity to canvass opinion amongst ourselves.
To launch our brand new Asylum Quiz we are asking: what is democratic psychiatry?
Please note: this is no ordinary quiz. There are no right answers.
Send us your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org
… Here are some of ours:
I’d say that democratic psychiatry is aspirational. It’s not necessarily an end in itself, nor does it seek a permanent substitute (for psychiatry). It’s about widening, strengthening and deepening the spaces where we can have an open and honest dialogue with (and about) madness.
A political movement in Italy to close the asylums and set up community health centres that inspired people to find alternatives to medical psychiatry around the world.
‘Psychiatry’ = the management of mental disorder.
‘Democracy’ = government by the people.
‘Democratic psychiatry’ = managing mental disorder by way of the
democratic decisions of everyone involved.
Obviously, this raises many questions. Hence ASYLUM magazine = a forum for debate.
For me ‘democratic psychiatry’ is a particularly powerful articulation of an ideal of – or rather of a deep longing for – humane and emancipatory psychiatry that refrains from coercion and injustice and has the potential to heal.
Let us know your answers. Or send us suggestions for our next Quiz:
From our readers:
True democracy is about dismantling authoritarian structures. Democratic
psychiatry is about dismantling coercive and oppressive structures in
medical psychiatry and creating a human alternative.
Liam Starkey (Soteria Manchester)
When I first spotted Asylum on a bookstand at one conference – its subtitle was a reason for me to leave it where it was. It was only much later, after I was given a couple of issues and actually read them that I started liking the content very much. I know Democratic Psychiatry as an Italian political movement, with some significant achievements. Beyond that – the phrase itself has no meaning to me. It sounds like democratic slavery, democratic patriarchy or democratic apartheid. I think that theories and practices that are fundamentally wrong are best abandoned because no attributes will make them better.
Jasna Russo (Berlin, Germany)
The idea of a “democratic psychiatry” has always perplexed me. I have heard it championed by Italian psychiatrists though never by Italian survivors. They are far more reserved about the democratic psychiatry movement and its legacy. I connect the phrase with the UK critical psychiatry group. This group seems to have a redemptive mission at bottom: to develop a better, more ethical or “radical” psychiatry.
This is not my mission. I long for the day when psychiatry ceases to insinuate itself at the very centre of discussions of madness and distress. It does not belong there. And I cannot help thinking that only in its absence can a vital conversation get going.
Debra Shulkes (Prague, Czech Republic)