Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Politics of Mental Illness: Myth and Power in the Work of Thomas S. Szasz

If mental illness existed, would compulsory hospitalization and treatment of those who presumably have it be justified?

Jan Pols is a Dutch psychiatrist who published a book (his thesis) about the writings and ideas of Thomas Szasz in 1984. His attitude towards Szasz is ambiguous. On the one hand he greatly admires him, on the other hand he rejects some of Szasz’s key arguments.

In Pols’s view, compulsory hospitalization and treatment are unjustified precisely because mental illness is real illness, and thus subject to the same ethical standards as somatic illness. He ends his book with a suggestion for eliminating compulsory hospitalization in the Netherlands.

When his book appeared, his colleagues received it with a great deal of hostility, even though this was at the tail end of the “antipsychiatry” era. It was a book destined to be quickly forgotten, particularly as on a world scale, not many people read Dutch. But now he has collaborated with translating it into English, and you can read it too, here:


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