‘I’m not signing’

Mike Jay

  • The Man Who Closed the Asylums: Franco Basaglia and the Revolution in Mental Health Care by John Foot
    Verso, 404 pp, £20.00, August 2015, ISBN 978 1 78168 926 4

In Britain, the man who closed the asylums was Enoch Powell. ‘There they stand,’ he announced to two thousand delegates at the 1961 annual conference of the National Association for Mental Health (now known as Mind), ‘isolated, majestic, imperious … the asylums which our forefathers built with such immense solidity to express the notions of their day.’ But the era of high-walled colonies for the mentally ill was past and ‘hospital building is not like pyramid building, the erection of memorials.’ There was no longer any plausible function for most of these vast complexes, and reform should ‘err on the side of ruthlessness’. The mental healthcare of the future would take place in general hospitals, and the number of beds would be halved, with care in the local community preferred wherever possible.

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[*] Frank Cioffi reviewed Sedgwick’s Psycho Politics in the LRB of 17 June 1982.