‘A powerful agent in their recovery’
Work as treatment in British West Indian lunatic asylums, 1860–1910
in Work, psychiatry and society, c. 1750–2015
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By the 1840s, the organised employment of patients was regarded as an essential aspect of progressive treatment regimes in British public lunatic asylums, forming a key aspect of the ‘moral management’ regime. The model was gradually disseminated to the colonies, often directly by British trained doctors, as one element of Britain’s ‘civilising mission’. This chapter considers the importance of work in the main asylums of the West Indian colonies where, despite the formal ending of African slavery in 1838, plantation labour remained the basis of the economic and social systems. In societies where work had such central significance, its importance as a method of treatment in the asylum was enhanced, and patients’ advances towards recovery would be judged partly by willingness and capacity to engage in outdoor or indoor work. The structures and routines associated with patient labour also helped to maintain order and control within the institution.

Editor: Waltraud Ernst

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