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Ethnicity and Mental Health in Post-War Britain

The Centres for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary and the History of Medicine at Warwick are currently collaborating on a history of mental health care in post-war Britain. The first stage of this research has been a witness seminar involving leading policy makers, practitioners, and historians. The appointment of two postdoctoral fellowships, one based at QMUL in the Centre for the History of the Emotions, the other at Warwick in the Centre for the History of Medicine, will provide an opportunity to examine in depth one aspect of this history: the relationship between ethnicity and mental health in Britain since 1945. This is a subject of major importance in its own right. It will also provide the opening case studies for a broader programme of collaborative and interdisciplinary research on the history of post-war mental health care.

In 2010, the journal History of Psychiatry claimed that new historical frameworks were necessary to understand the history of post-war mental health care. To date, the limited efforts in this direction have struggled to extend models developed in the analysis of asylum psychiatry into an era in which mental health care takes place predominantly outside hospitals, and in which the range of care providers and professionals has vastly expanded. The history of the relationship between psychiatry and ethnicity in post-war Britain provides an ideal vantage point for understanding the contemporary history of mental health care, although it is a subject that has been has been largely ignored by medical historians. Recent government studies (for instance ‘Count me in’ surveys) have repeatedly demonstrated the consistent over representation of Black and Minority Ethnic groups in the mental health system and secure mental hospitals in particular. The project will result in the first historical studies of this important and controversial issue across the post-war era in relation to immigration, race relations, legal changes and the reconfiguration of the field of mental health.

The Fellowships provide an exciting opportunity to play a key role in pioneering the history of ethnicity and mental health in post-war Britain and in building a broader collaborative programme of research. The research will benefit from links to the Centre for the Study of Migration at QMUL and the Centres for Global and Caribbean History at Warwick, and your research will connect with a broader programme of research on ethnicity and disease in post-war Britain at Warwick (Dr Roberta Bivins) and on the development of modern biomedicine at QMUL (Professor Tilli Tansey).

The project teams will include the two project directors Dr Rhodri Hayward (Centre for the History of the Emotions, QMUL) and Dr Mathew Thomson (Centre for the History of Medicine, Warwick), as well as Professor Swaran Singh (Professor of Community and Social Psychiatry and Head of Division, Mental Health & Wellbeing, Warwick Medical School) and Professor Kamaldeep Bhui (Professor of Cultural Psychiatry & Epidemiology and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, QMUL). The new fellowships will play a key role in establishing an interdisciplinary network of scholars across the two institutions, connecting this outwards to stakeholders in the field, organising collaborative events, and building a platform for further research.

The Postdoctoral Fellow located in the Warwick Centre for the History of Medicine will work on policy, politics, experience, and representation. The Postdoctoral Fellow located in the QMUL Centre for the History of Emotions will work on epidemiology, psychiatric theory, and therapy. The exact focus of each Postdoctoral Fellow will depend on the research proposals and interests of candidates who apply for the posts and will be finalised in discussion with the project directors.

As part of the partnership, the research fellows in this area will create and maintain a project website which will reach out to stakeholders in the field. They will also run a witness seminar series in Years 1 and 2 of the project, involving practitioners, policy makers, service users, pressure groups, and academics and will undertake some research on areas of high ethnic diversity proximate to the two universities and organise associated public engagement activities.

Informal enquiries: Dr Matthew Thomson: Department of History, University of Warwick, or Dr Rhodri Hayward