Mental Illness Awareness Week Reading List

Today’s reading list is focused on mental health as we enter Mental Illness Awareness Week, recognized from October 3rd to October 9th. “Since 1990, when Congress officially established the first full week of October as MIAW, advocates have worked together to sponsor activities, large or small, to educate the public about mental illness.” Below you’ll find a list of various titles that touch on mental illness (or lack thereof) and the study of mental health in different communities. If you or anyone you know needs some help, visit the National Association of Mental Illness’ website for 24/7 crisis support via text, a NAMI HelpLine for calls and even an online live chat.


COMMITTED: REMEMBERING NATIVE KINSHIP IN AND BEYOND INSTITUTIONS

(awarded the 2021 Alison Piepmeier Book Prize by the National Women’s Studies Association)

BY SUSAN BURCH

Between 1902 and 1934, the United States confined hundreds of adults and children from dozens of Native nations at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, a federal psychiatric hospital in South Dakota. But detention at the Indian Asylum, as families experienced it, was not the beginning or end of the story. For them, Canton Asylum was one of many places of imposed removal and confinement, including reservations, boarding schools, orphanages, and prison-hospitals. Despite the long reach of institutionalization for those forcibly held at the Asylum, the tenacity of relationships extended within and beyond institutional walls. 

In this accessible and innovative work, Susan Burch tells the story of the Indigenous people—families, communities, and nations, across generations to the present day—who have experienced the impact of this history. 

FROM ASYLUM TO PRISON: DEINSTITUTIONALIZATION AND THE RISE OF MASS INCARCERATION AFTER 1945

BY ANNE E. PARSONS

From Asylum to Prison definitively shows that asylums must be considered part of the carceral state—and that their ‘deinstitutionalization’ was less about shuttering asylums than it was repurposing them into prisons. The story of the country’s move from asylum to prisons is one of reinstitutionalization rather than deinstitutionalization, not one of emptying institutions but shifting their function toward even more punitive ends.

Reviews in American History

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE POOR?: PSYCHIATRY, RACE, AND THE WAR ON POVERTY

BY MICAL RAZ

In the 1960s, policymakers and mental health experts joined forces to participate in President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. In her insightful interdisciplinary history, physician and historian Mical Raz examines the interplay between psychiatric theory and social policy throughout that decade, ending with President Richard Nixon’s 1971 veto of a bill that would have provided universal day care. She shows that this cooperation between mental health professionals and policymakers was based on an understanding of what poor men, women, and children lacked. This perception was rooted in psychiatric theories of deprivation focused on two overlapping sections of American society: the poor had less, and African Americans, disproportionately represented among America’s poor, were seen as having practically nothing.

THE PECULIAR INSTITUTION AND THE MAKING OF MODERN PSYCHIATRY, 1840-1880

BY WENDY GONAVER

This is a timely, intriguing, and deeply researched social history, telling the story of how a racially hierarchical, internally segregated, asylum set at the heart of chattel slavery was absorbed into perhaps an even bleaker carceral system following the Civil War.

Bulletin of the History of Medicine

UNSPEAKABLE: THE STORY OF JUNIUS WILSON

BY SUSAN BURCH AND HANNAH JOYNER

Junius Wilson (1908-2001) spent seventy-six years at a state mental hospital in Goldsboro, North Carolina, including six in the criminal ward. He had never been declared insane by a medical professional or found guilty of any criminal charge. But he was deaf and black in the Jim Crow South. Unspeakable is the story of his life.

Using legal records, institutional files, and extensive oral history interviews–some conducted in sign language–Susan Burch and Hannah Joyner piece together the story of a deaf man accused in 1925 of attempted rape, found insane at a lunacy hearing, committed to the criminal ward of the State Hospital for the Colored Insane, castrated, forced to labor for the institution, and held at the hospital for more than seven decades. Junius Wilson’s life was shaped by some of the major developments of twentieth-century America: Jim Crow segregation, the civil rights movement, deinstitutionalization, the rise of professional social work, and the emergence of the deaf and disability rights movements. In addition to offering a bottom-up history of life in a segregated mental institution, Burch and Joyner’s work also enriches the traditional interpretation of Jim Crow by highlighting the complicated intersections of race and disability as well as of community and language.

PSYCHOLOGY AND SELFHOOD IN THE SEGREGATED SOUTH

BY ANNE C. ROSE

This well-researched study of the psychological sciences in the first six decades of the twentieth-century South is a subtle and original contribution to southern studies. . . . [It] deserves the attention of all scholars interested in the intellectual and cultural history of the modern South or in the history of the human sciences in the twentieth century.

American Historical Review