Accepted Paper:

From cultural diversity to mental illness: colonial legacies in psychiatric settings  
Chiara Pussetti (Universidade de Lisboa)

Paper short abstract:

Based on a two-year fieldwork, this presentation underlines how the interpretation, diagnosis and treatment of 'mental health' in migrants can frequently be influenced by colonial legacies, even in 'culturally sensitive' psychiatric programmes.

Paper long abstract:

This paper - drawing on the life stories of African migrants interned in a Portuguese psychiatric hospital - proposes a reflection on the unaware reproduction of colonial paradigms in institutional settings, with the effect of maintaining and re-enacting persisting structures of inequality. Based upon a two years fieldwork, this presentation underlines how the interpretation, diagnosis and treatment of "mental health" in migrants can frequently be influenced by colonial legacies, also in "culturally sensitive" psychiatric programs. These legacies - incorporated, despite the best of intentions, as a constitutive element of diagnosis and treatment into the therapeutic practices of psychiatric counselling - pathologize experiences and behaviours of marginalized people of non-Western origins, (re)producing discriminative attitudes and institutional racism. The frequent failure of therapeutic interventions in these settings, could be interpreted therefore as a consequence of the partial obscuration or silencing of the voices of the migrants speaking about their very afflictions, lived experiences and discontents, in a context of persisting colonial power relations.

Panel W060
Strategic uses of colonial legacies in postcolonial encounters