Book Review

Closing Asylums for the Mentally Ill: Social Consequences

Dianne Wynaden
Professor of Mental Health, School of Nursing and Midwifery/Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute, Curtin University, Perth, WA

Globally, deinstitutionalisation or the movement of psychiatric patients from mental institutions to the community was justified on the basis of the treatment, confinement, living conditions and human rights violations that occurred within these institutions. In Australia, decades after the deinstitutionalisation process commenced the integration of mental health services into the general health care system along with the ability of community mental health care to empower consumers and provide them with social engagement, access to resources and effective care is under increasing scrutiny.

Closing Asylums for the Mentally Ill: Social Consequences is a welcome addition to the mental health literature. It will prove to be a useful text and tutorial reader for students, graduates and clinicians as it provides an up to date detailed knowledge and understanding of the numerous and complex issues surrounding the delivery of mental health care in Australia. The articles in this special issue of Health Sociology Review pose challenges and will clearly facilitate reflection and critical analysis. Each article includes an abstract, a list of key words and references that add further value for the reader.

This book is important for several reasons. It provides valuable historical data about the deinstitutionalisation movement in Australia. The work also evaluates the outcomes of the movement of mental health care into the community examining the social consequences for the consumer, their family and the community. Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM, the Australian Human Rights Commissioner and Acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has written the Foreword for this edition, presenting a valuable insight into the 'Not for Service: Experiences of injustice and despair in mental health care in Australia' report released in 2005. The major theme of this report is that little has changed since the National Inquiry into the Human Rights of People with a mental illness by Commissioner Burdekin in 1993. Commissioner Ozdowski reiterates the concerns of many, that the Australian Governments need to place mental health issues on the political agenda and action significant changes in service delivery.

Other papers in this book discuss the silence of professionals in relation to the social implications of asylum closure in Australia and the major implications of this social change on consumers, their families and the community. An evaluation of the impact of mental health policy during the era of deinstitutionalisation is also included. A review of global issues on mental health reform, citizenship and human rights highlights common issues in mental health care. An evaluation of Australian mental health policy and the impact of deinstitutionalisation on the Victorian health system from 1993-1998 are included. The reader is able to develop an understanding of the changes in care between the asylum and the community and develop an insight into everyday life following hospitalisation for the consumer.

In conclusion, this special issue of Health Sociology Review is exciting and adds to the knowledge and understanding of mental health policy, reform and service delivery in Australia. Commissioner Ozdowski commends the publisher for releasing the special issue as a book (ISBN 0-9757422-1-3) for wider dissemination. The work will contribute significantly to the educational preparation of health professionals providing them with an insightful understanding of the social consequences of government policies over several decades on mental health care.


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