The nature of madness has been a topic for discussion since ancient times. However, mental illness is related to modern times and connected with institucionalisation of psychiatry. According to Michel Foucault it was the need of the burgeoisie to do away with troublesome individuals in the 18th century that led to the foundation of special institutions for the so-called mentally ill. Within the framework of those „cells for the unwanted“ psychiatry became a scientific discipline.

Today psychiatry is flourishing more than ever before because the number of problems which are regarded as an illness is increasing dramatically. The world renowned Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, has grown incredibly from the original 134 pages in 1968 to 947 pages in 2013. Due to the classification system, with the help of which symptoms are defined and qualified as signs of mental disorders, a whole range of behaviour patterns has been labelled as pathological. Our western society is allegedly becoming increasingly mentally ill and is troubled by different disorders such as ADHD ( Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), a syndrome seen as one of the epidemics of our century.

However, it is a well-known fact that psychatric diagnoses reflect and reinforce the governing ideology. For instance, in 1975 homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and thus ceased to be regarded a psychiatric disorder. The individualisation of social problems led to the increase of medicalization of human troubles and the enhancement of the pharmaceutial approach which aims at „putting a person right“ rather than changing problematic social structures.
In our discussion we are going to deal with socio-political factors creating the psychiatric ethos within and beyond the Czech context. How are psychiatric disorders devised and constructed as scientific facts? What role do state institutions play in this process? How does the psychiatric ethos influence social structures and the „Self“ narrative which is produced in them? Is psychiatry a symptom of capitalism and patriarchate? What are the alternatives? Is madness in the form of a rebelling stranger a voice which we really wish to eliminate?

The panel discussion was organized by the Institute of Anxiety in cooperation with Alma Lily Rayner.


Christopher Lane (Ph.D., University of London) teaches literature and intellectual history at Northwestern University by Chicago and specializes on psychiatry and psychology of the 19th and 20th centuries. A former Guggenheim fellow, awarded the Prescrire Prize for medical writing (France). He has written six books, including Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness (Yale, 2007), translated into six languages. He writes a blog for Psychology Today called „Side Effects“.

Lisa Forestell hears voices, she is a mental health activist and a certified peer specialist in Massachusetts. She is the coordinator of Statewide Development with the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community (RLC) and a Hearing Voices Network (HVN) facilitator, and trainer. She serves on the boards of HVN-USA and Intervoice. Within her international activities Lisa promotes humane approaches to emotional distress. She uses the frameworks of human rights and social justice in her work.

Jakub Černý is a psychologist, social worker and therapist working in the state non-profit sector and specializing in drug addiction, other types of addiction and mental health. As a supervisor, lecturer and activist he supports projects dealing with social changes and emancipation of people with their own experience, for instance the project Street Support. He is one of the founding fathers of the group Narativ dealing with the development of collaborative and dialogical practice in the Czech Republic, structural and political aspects of mental health.

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