The early years: 1986 to 2002….
In the spring of 1986 Asylum, costing 50p but “Free to Inmates”, was launched. The cover announced the highlights of the first issue as follows:
“Exclusive interview with R. D. Laing:
‘Psychiatric Democracy in Italy, The Politics of Mental Health'”
That captures most of the intentions of the founders. We were a group of sufferers and professionals, much influenced by the “antipsychiatry” movement of the long past sixties and galvanised into action by two visits to England of Mental Health Workers from Italy who came as missionaries for Psichiatria Democratica in Italy.
The University Department of Psychiatry in Sheffield had made a slight profit out of the visit and that enabled us to start publishing. Lin Bigwood and Phil Virden had similar ideas about a magazine as we did in Sheffield. For several years Phil did much of the work, almost in the way in which Terry McLaughlin does now. Neither has been significantly rewarded. Over the years and despite several crises we have gradually become more sophisticated, and realistic money-wise, but never secure.
Our aim was – and is – to struggle towards achieving what we thought was the best of the system in Trieste in the late eighties. There the great Asylum San Giovanni was now a complex of apartments for ex patients, with art studios for everyone, space for theatres and cinema performances and a perpetual discussion of what more could be done to humanise mental health services.
There were co-operatives and a restaurant in town as well as well as small friendly units with a few beds for short stays during crises as well as facilities to sit together, to eat and to chat and to see the mental health workers. We liked the realisation that the total ambience of everyone’s’ life is of central importance to their mentality. They had realised that much that is therapeutic comes from the arts, from sharing good things, from eating, drinking and laughing together.
Our central aim in encouraging those who felt hurt by the system to write was the hope that it would help, them to express their views, which would also be discussed. So we tried to offer them “a proper place at the table”.
There they would be given as good a chance as is possible to be taken seriously. That was also very much to set mental health, and those thought to lack it, in their true political and economic setting. Sometimes, when angry, one can write what one might be frightened to say – and we accepted the need, at times, to do so anonymously. We have also an urge and a tradition to accept articles by allowing space for what is sent to us. Reality limits complete freedom!
We have remained independent of financial support from anyone other than subscribers and workers, and we have no overwhelming allegiances except to the right to express one’s own opinion, and for others to have the right to challenge it, and certainly a duty to listen.
Many people have worked voluntarily for us. Peter Good did with our first cooperative printer in Huddersfield. Then we moved to Monteney Press in Sheffield a part of a workshop set up by, among others, David Blunkett. There, unemployed workers printed ASYLUM for the cost of the paper and ink, but we did make good will donations to them.
Then a group from Manchester, especially Nigel Rose, Paul Baker, Mark Greenwood and AnnWalton played central roles. Throughout, Mark Hinchliffe has our been our poetry editor for most of our existence, aided at different periods by Jane Paffey and Paula Quick. Helen Spandler has also helped us over several years, as has Philip Hutchinson. Stephen Ticktin has been our London agent, and very involved since the early days, so too was Tim Kendall.
We are indebted to all these people and to so many others – some of whom are mentioned in our current list of the collective’s members.
We chose the title ‘Asylum’ for its original etymological meanings, through Latin from Greek to English. That is of a refuge, and also of there being a right not to be seized. We were influenced too by knowing that ‘Asylum’ was the original title of what became the British Journal of Psychiatry!
After a quarter of a century, of inevitable inefficiencies, disasters and chaos, we are proudly struggling on. It should not be surprising that an amateur outfit of volunteers, many with their own problems should have had several severe hiccoughs, for which many have kindly forgiven us. We do hope much of that may now be behind us.
We still hope to be able to continue to make a significant contribution to understanding and ameliorating mental suffering of so many people. We do certainly want to be among those giving them a voice, and an attentive audience and, when and where possible, a sympathetic response.
See here for his obituaries.
2000 – 2007: In The Service of a Revolution in Mental Health
By the end of the millennium the Collective was showing signs of weariness. Rumours were afoot that the magazine had folded (which were not true) and others suggested that the ideals and principles which had driven the Collective should be consigned to history. The rampage of market forces and the spectre of global policies of coercion was a depressing picture.
Activist networks were either falling into the clutches of the drug companies, becoming reliant on government funding or commercial operations serving the interests of the professional classes. Asylum could never do that. Yet the last decade in particular had seen the rise of a new generation of survivor workers and activists.
Paradigm shifting research in the Netherlands by Marius Romme and Sandra Escher had led to the blossoming of the Hearing Voices Network (HVN) and an international hearing voices movement. (Asylum collectivists were in the forefront of this development).
Psychology Politics Resistance (PPR) was founded in 1994 uniting critical psychologists with non psychologists against the abuses of psychology. The newsletter of PPR was formally incorporated into Asylum magazine in 2001. Progressive psychiatrists founded the Critical Psychiatry Network; the foundations of this can be traced to an open letter from Romme published in Asylum.
Above all a radicalised survivor movement has brought new hope of ending the barbarism which has characterised psychiatric practices. Mad Pride internationally has recaptured the spirit of artistry and rebellion which was alive in the sixties and served well the democratising project in Trieste, Italy.
The No Force grouping has revealed a new potential for activism. The establishment organisations in the form of the Mental Health Alliance, were in opposition to the reactionary Mental Health Bill, managed to call off a mass demonstration in London. No Force pulled off an impressive demonstration at the last minute. The ideals of the No Force project have been taken up by activists throughout Europe, determined to check the forces of reaction at the heart of the European Union.
Asylum has not only been proud to report on these events but has taken this inspiration as new energy to develop the magazine.
We will never have recourse to drug companies or sell out the principles of the radical democratic movement within and against psychiatry. Please support this movement by subscribing to Asylum.
– Terence McLaughlin. Executive Editor of Asylum (2000 – 2007)
2010 – 2017: The Recent Years
In Spring 2010, after a break, Asylum was relaunched! There was a whole history and a whole future to work with. An editorial team was discussed and agreed, and the word went out that the magazine was going to print again.
Working with PCCS publishing, the last seven years have involved submissions from a vast array of contributors. Mad Studies has come of age with two significant conferences being held consolidating the emergent academic field coalescing from the international networks.
A burgeoning literature in mental health studies has been created by communities, practitioners, academics, survivors, by people all over the world has driven interest in Asylum Magazine continuing to serve as an open forum and a platform. Multiple thinkers, groups and academics who have supported the development of ‘Mad Studies’ and alternative perspectives have been contributors, affiliates or involved in the Asylum collective.
The 2016 Lancaster Disabilities conference involved a convergence of thinkers forming a stream with a particular focus on “Mad Studies” of which members of the Asylum Collective were involved in help bring together. In 2017 was the 30th anniversary of Asylum Magazine which saw a conference being held in the University of Manchester on the theme of ‘Action and Reaction’.
Many developments are happening including a complete rebuilding of the Asylum website to better suit and support the needs of the community and the uploading of back issues of the magazine. Future print issues are being organised, contributions are being welcomed, discussions are being had and events are being planned.
Magazine subscriptions are available in posted printed form, and also ebook versions! You can support the future of this non profit magazine by paying for a subscription below:
You can read Helen’s chapter – Asylum: the magazine for Democratic Psychiatry in the UK here:
From the book Basaglia’s International Legacy: From Asylum to Community edited by Tom Burns and John Foot (Oxford University Press, 2020).
You can hear Helen Spandler talk about some history of Asylum and survivor history here::