Title page for ETD etd-06102006-003016

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Dillon, Erica
Author's Email Address dillonerica@yahoo.com, edillo2@lsu.edu
URN etd-06102006-003016
Title New Programs in the Old Asylum: The Deinstitutionalization of Long-Term Psychiatric Hospital Patients in Argentina
Degree Master of Arts (M.A.)
Department Geography & Anthropology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Helen Regis Committee Chair
Joyce M. Jackson Committee Member
Miles Richardson Committee Member
  • psychiatric hospital
  • ethnography
  • externacion
  • ex-patients
  • mental health
  • argentina
Date of Defense 2006-05-19
Availability unrestricted
Large psychiatric hospitals with inpatients interned for decades are still the norm in Argentina, where deinstitutionalization and community-based mental health care is almost inexistent. This thesis focuses on some changes taking place in a centenary psychiatric hospital in Buenos Aires province: the externación of long-term psychiatric patients through new programs planned and run from inside the institution by health professionals compromised in making a change in the old asylum. Can long-term inpatients with serious mental illness such as schizophrenia leave the asylum and integrate in the society having a recovered life? Do the new externación programs make this possible? What is the place of the psychiatric hospital in the process of externación? are some of the questions raised in this research. Through an ethnographic methodology it describes the ex-patients' experiences of life inside the institution, going through the externación process, and living outside in the community. These experiences provide insider perspectives to analyze the new programs and also the place of the psychiatric hospital in ex-patients' lives in the community.

The literature on deinstitutionalization in the United States usually describes the lives of ex-patients in the community as lonely, isolated, empty, and lacked of socially valued roles and productive activities. The findings of this research, instead, describe ex-patients lives as involved in an informal economy for coping with a context of poverty and scarcity of social security programs and official policies for deinstitutionalization. Ex-patients construct survival strategies and social networks and participate in the "outside world" of the community integrating aspects of the "psychiatric world" of the hospital, which they have constructed as a multiple resource, and making meaningless the supposed need of separating these worlds.

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