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Ethnicity, Migration and Mental Illness

This is a 'fairly' new topic on the module, a response to the growing literature in this field. My aim this week is to consider the emerging historical literature on this theme and also to relate it to ongoing concerns in psychiatry. There is less reading this week (aim to read 2-3 articles), but spend some time doing some private research into this topic and trying to locate evidence of current debates within psychiatry about the relationship between ethnicity, migration and mental health. What is also notable in this week’s session is that it will expose you to a variety of approaches in the history of psychiatry, with publications from social and cultural historians, social geographers, psychiatrists and other medical professionals involved in mental health work. Much of the reading below relates to Irish migration - as I have researched this. But I would encourage you to research the relationship between mental illness and migration in contexts of your choice. Use this week too to carry out more reading on ideas of race and madness, particularly the material on Ireland and Australasia.
Also there is another play to view, 'A Malady of Migration' with supporting essays and podcasts of panel discussions: Spend some time viewing this and also thinking about different ways historical ideas can be conveyed and debated beyond academic publications to broader audiences.
See also the short article I published with Catherine Cox in The Conservation on the novel Alias Grace and Irish migration
  1. In what ways was migration conceived of as a potential cause of insanity?
  2. Why has gender or class – rather than ethnicity – so often been presented as a category of analysis in historical studies of mental illness? Could we challenge this emphasis?
  3. How can we explain high rates of mental illness amongst migrants and particular ethnic groups?
  4. Does history have a role in speaking to current issues in health and medicine, and particularly migration and mental illness?
**Angela McCarthy and Catharine Coleborne (eds), Migration, Ethnicity and Mental Health: International Perspectives (New York and London: Routledge, 2012) (essays on various national contexts). e-book

** Alison Bashford,
'Insanity and Immigration Restriction', Catherine Cox, Hilary Marland and Sarah York, 'Itineraries and Experiences of Insanity: Irish Migration and the Management of Mental Illness in Nineteenth-Century Lancashire' and Letizia Gramaglia,'Migration and Mental Illness in the British West Indies 1838-1900: The Case of Trinidad and British Guiana', all in Catherine Cox and Hilary Marland (eds), Migration, Health and Ethnicity in the Modern World (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). e-book

** Angela McCarthy, ‘Ethnicity, Migration and the Lunatic Asylum in Early Twentieth-Century Auckland, New Zealand’, Social History of Medicine, 21 (2008), 47-65. e-journal

** Angela McCarthy, 'Migration and Madness at Sea: The Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Voyage to New Zealand', Social History of Medicine, 28 (2015), 706-24. e-journal 

* Catharine Coleborne, Insanity, Identity and Empire: Immigrants and Institutional Confinement in Australia and New Zealand, 1873-1910 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016). e-book

* Margaret Harper(ed.), Migration and Mental Health. Past and Present (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2016). e-book

** Robert Ellis, London and its Asylums, 1888-1914: Politics and Madness (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), ch.6 'The Politics of Difference'. e-book

* Gemma Blok, '"Insane Emigrants" in Transit: Psychiatric Patients' Files as a Source for the History of Return Migration, c.1910', Social History of Medicine, 28 (2015), 889-901. e-journal 

** James B. Kirkbride and Peter B. Jones, 'Epidemiological Aspects of Migration and Mental Illness', in Dinesh Bhugra and Susham Gupta (eds), Migration and Mental Health(Cambridge University Press, 2011). e-book


An Irishman contemplates a poster advertising passages from Dublin to New York.
 ** Elizabeth Malcolm, ‘“The House of Strident Shadows”: The Asylum, the Family, and Emigration in Post-Famine Rural Ireland’, in Greta Jones and Elizabeth Malcolm (eds), Medicine, Disease and the State in Ireland, 1650-1940 (Cork: Cork University Press, 1999), pp. 177-91. Several copies in library and Talis Aspire
** Catherine Cox, Hilary Marland and Sarah York, ‘Emaciated, Exhausted and Excited: The Bodies and Minds of the Irish in Nineteenth-Century Lancashire Asylums’, Journal of Social History, 46 (2012), 500-24. e-journal
* Vishal Bhasvar and Dinesh Bhugra, ‘Bethlem’s Irish: Migration and Distress in Nineteenth-Century London’, History of Psychiatry, 20 (2009), 184-98. e-journal
* John W. Fox, ‘Irish Immigrants, Pauperism, and Insanity in 1854 Massachusetts’, Social Science History, 15 (1991), 315-36. e-journal

* Liam Greenslade, Moss Madden and Maggie Pearson, ‘From Visible to Invisible: The “Problem” of the Health of Irish People in Britain’, in Lara Marks and Michael Worboys (eds), Migrants, Minorities and Health: Historical and Contemporary Studies (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), pp.147-78. Chapter scanned (course extracts HI383) and Talis Aspire


* Richard Adair, Bill Forsthye and Joseph Melling, ‘Migration, Family Structure and Pauper Lunacy in Victorian England: Admissions to the Devon County Lunatic Asylum, 1845-1900’, Continuity and Change, 12 (1997), 373-401. e-journal


E. Fuller Torrey and Judy Miller, The Invisible Plague: The Rise of Mental Illness from 1750 to the Present (Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 2001), esp. ch. 7. e-book


P.J. Bracken et al., ‘Mental Health and Ethnicity: An Irish Dimension’, British Journal of Psychiatry, 172 (1998), 103-5. e-journal
Patrick Bracken and Patrick O’Sullivan, ‘The Invisibility of Irish Migrants in British Health Research’, Irish Studies Review, 9 (2001), 41-51. e-journal
John Donaldson, A Simpleton
Liam Clarke, ‘Mental Illness and Irish People: Stereotypes, Determinants and Changing Perspectives’, Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 5 (1998), 555-62. e-journal
Louise Ryan et al., ‘Depression in Irish Migrants Living in London: Case-Control Study’, British Journal of Psychiatry, 188 (2006), 560-6. e-journal
S.P. Singh and T. Burns, ‘Race and Mental Illness: There is More to Race than Racism’, British Medical Journal, 333 (2006), 648-51. e-journal
S.P. Singh et al., ‘Ethnicity and the Mental Health Act 1983’, British Journal of Psychiatry, 191 (2007), 99-105. e-journal
Dinesh Bhugra and Susham Gupta (eds), Migration and Mental Health (Cambridge University Press, 2011) (one to dip into - multiple essays relating to recent research in medicine on this area). e-book