Mental Health and the Law: Politics, Psychology, and Profit
What is “mental health” and how has it been shaped by the law? From defining wellness to restricting the rights of the unwell, setting parameters for treatment, and regulating and protecting the pharmaceutical companies that develop and market psychological drugs (often to immense profits), government laws are fundamental to the ways mental health is experienced, perceived, policed, and commodified. But, how did the modern legal regime of mental health come to be, and to what purposes? How can we think about disability and mental impairment not simply as a medical phenomenon, but also as a legal and political construct? In what ways do the diagnoses, treatment, and stigmatization and criminalization of mental health reflect the prejudices, power relations, and economic imperatives pre-existing in society? What are the legal, theoretical, and practical horizons for change?
This course will attempt to answer these and other questions by considering the historical interplay between psychology, psychiatry, health, and the law. We’ll begin by taking a critical look at the legal architecture of mental health and political economies of mental suffering, considering the impact of statutes like the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, which governs the FDA’s financial relationship with big Pharma. Next, we’ll explore the roles of racialization, gender, poverty, and capital in the allocation of both rights and services to persons experiencing mental challenges, reading works on the history of institutionalization, abolitionism, and the disability rights movement; on racialization and diagnosis; and on the pathologization of poverty. Moving beyond the domestic context, we’ll critically examine the “Global Mental Health” movement and its relationship to processes of colonization, as well as the relationship between “civilization” and capitalism in international law. We’ll also look at debates around the legal impact of Articles 12 and 14 of United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which purport to end involuntary treatment. Finally, we’ll consider both international and domestic reform efforts aimed at increasing human rights and reducing the influence of big Pharma on law and policy; look at alternatives to neoliberal views of mental health; examine the shortcomings of “rights-based” legal reform efforts; and debate the “capacities approach” to psychosocial disability versus the standard approach of measuring the “global burden of disease.” Throughout, we will ask: how do political and economic interests shape the ways in which we respond to cognitive abnormality and mental suffering both at home and abroad? What might a different legal approach to mental health look like? Readings will be drawn from works by Liat Ben-Moshe, Dean Spade, Jonathan Metzl, Amartya Sen, Dainius Puras, China Mills, Lisa Cosgrove, and Robert Whitaker, among others.
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
September 15 — October 06, 2021