Mental Health and Justice: Classical and Romantic perspectives

LectureGareth Owen

9 November 2017 – 19:30-21:00
New Hunt’s House, Theatre 2
New Hunt’s House, KCL Guy’s Campus – London

Psychiatry has long attracted interpretations from cool, detached perspectives valuing objectivity (Kraepelin, Freud, Beck) to hotter, embodied perspectives valuing subjectivity (Reil, Laing, Foucault).

These two perspectives (‘classical’ and ‘romantic’) are now expressing themselves in psychiatry’s meeting point with law with different approaches taken to the decision-making of the mentally ill. A recent ‘classical’ achievement in this area is the Mental Capacity Act (2005) which lays out a test of decision-making capacity within a legal framework that has been described as “a masterpiece of legal clarity”. A recent romantic achievement has been the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which emphatically asserts a social model of mental illness in which society, not the brain, is the true source of disabilities.

This lecture will probe the subjectivity of some disorders of mind and brain. What, for example, is it like to be a decision-maker under conditions of brain injury unaware of one’s deficits or a person with affective disorder fluctuating between experiences of the future as intensely dark and intensely bright? And how should others respond? It aims to use these forms of human experience to challenge the single mindedness of both classical and romantic perspectives and draw out implications for psychiatry as a branch of medicine interacting with law and society.

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