Talking to a friend about how quickly we criticize older Jamaican people for stigmatizing mental health but maybe it might help to think about madness/insanity historically as an elastic sociopolitical category that was always available to envelop improper colonial subjects.
Even a quick glance through the archives and you realize how easy it was for you to be sent to the asylum or the madhouse for anything that was even suggestive of political dissent.
I’m thinking, for example, of Alexander Bedward, the seditious Revivalist, who was taken to Bellevue, formerly known as the Jamaica Lunatic Asylum, on the grounds that all his talk about religion and racial equality must be due to a “fevered mind.”
Or we can return to a much earlier moment in the 1860s as recalled in “Imperfect Models: The Kingston Lunatic Asylum Scandal and the Problem of Postemancipation Imperialism” by Christienna D. Fryar and I am very interested in a few of the cases she mentions.
This is a very early case of malpractice where the mixed-race Ann Pratt is sent to the asylum for 6 months after accusing (most likely white) men of raping her. The asylum becomes a space of racial and gendered discipline that legally marks one as a colonial subject.
In “Psychiatry in Jamaica—Growth and Development,” Fred Hickling shows us that insanity/madness is/was not necessarily a biopsychological but a political one, assigned by colonial authorities to poor Black Jamaicans. And this is the 1970s.
And I’m all over the place chronologically but I’m trying to maybe move away from ridiculing older folks and think about the politics of the madhouse and of madness.
Madness as not just mental illness, but madness as the expansive category of the socially deviant and the politically recalcitrant.
If we think it this way, it might help us to understand suspicions around psychiatric facilities especially since madness as a social category is still grounded in everyday language.
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