Il Cappellaio Matto – The Mad Hatter – presents a conversation with Dr. Giorgio Antonucci
Italian group of users and survivors Il Cappellaio Matto is happy to share an extended interview with Giorgio Antonucci, physician, psychoanalyst, and director of two mental hospital wards for many years.
He fought to prevent and abolish forced psychiatric treatment, to the liberation of people from Italian mental hospitals from the early 60s onwards and above all to demonstrate that a psychiatric diagnosis is in reality a psychiatric judgment, supported by a social prejudice.
The first of eight instalments of the interview can be seen here:
It is available with English language subtitles thanks to the efforts of Il Capellaio Matto.
That’s the first publication in a foreign language , except a book in Danish: Svend Bach, a literature professor at the Aarhus University, dedicated him: Antipsykiatri eller ikke-psykiatri.
Giorgio Antonucci began his job as a physician in Florence (Italy), trying to solve the problems of people who risked to end up in psychiatry. He began to engage himself in psychiatric problems, trying to avoid hospitalizations, internments and any kind of coercive methods. In 1968 he worked in Cividale del Friuli (with Edelweiss Cotti), a public hospital ward, the first Italian alternative to mental hospitals. In 1969 he worked at the psychiatric hospital of Gorizia, directed by Franco Basaglia; he criticised the fact that in this hospital electroshock was taken away only for men, and continued to exist for women. (It is to taken in account, that Basaglia was away most of the time, for conferences and so on, then he died at 56 in 1980). Antonucci said that of course Basaglia was the first who took under question the mental hospital and that he rightly said that it was (is) a matter of class. But Basaglia did not go all the way down to say that the mental hospital is a prejudge in itself, not only a building, and he spent his time with conferences all over the world and writing books, articles etc. Antonucci indeed was working every day with the patients, to give them back their freedom.
From 1970 to 1972 Antonucci directed the “Mental Hygiene Centre” of Castelnuovo nei Monti in the province of Reggio Emilia. From 1973 to 1996 he worked as head physician in two mental hospitals of Bologna, Osservanza and Luigi Lolli, dismantling some psychiatric wards and setting up new residential opportunities for former inmates, giving them complete freedom of every personal choice. A successful example unique in Italy and probably in the world. From a political and religious point of view he is an anarchist, libertarian and atheist.
“Forced treatments are violations of their rights and harmful to them, to their thoughts and their lives, therefore I started dealing with psychiatry”, he says.
In this short conversation with the actor and activist Saverio Tommassi, Antonucci discusses the difference between genuine systems of healing and psychiatry as a way of social control, “a moralistic judgement and the claim to control the behaviour of those who don’t respect social conventions”. He explains the genesis of his own opposition to all forms of psychiatric incarceration, restraint and forced drugging: as a young doctor, he witnessed the lock-up in asylums of women considered “difficult”, who had once been prostitutes, and been labelled as mad by Catholic authorities. He soon grasped that 90% of the occupants of institutions were the “socially undesirable” – homeless, disaffected housewives, unemployed, etc: “Inside the mental hospitals, it wasn’t mad people who were locked up – as it’s usually believed – but unlucky people who happened to find themselves in hard situations”.
“I think that often, in addition to the hazard of psychiatric opinion, the most dangerous thing is when a person resigns to his own conviction of being sick” .
Dr. Antonucci has never made a forced treatment or forced hospitalization, and has never prescribed psychiatric drugs, because, he said “as a doctor I did the Hippocratic swear to never harm a person”.
Later, Antonucci describes the “calate”, mass expeditions of Italian citizens to state psychiatric wards to see exactly how inmates were treated: “It was a cause of great disgrace to the doctors because people, including children, were found tied up to chairs or to beds and locked up inside little rooms. And so for the first time, an entire population made up of peasants, local authorities, workers, county mayors, even a parliamentary deputy all brought into question the asylums as an institution”.
Giorgio Antonucci’s language is always very simply, without difficult words because he says that his words have to reach all people.
Dr. Giorgio Antonucci believes in the value of human life and he thinks that communication, not enforced incarceration and inhumane physical treatments, can help a person in difficulty – if the person wants to be helped. In the institution of Osservanza (Observance) in Imola, Italy, Dr. Antonucci treated dozens of so-called schizophrenic women, most of whom had been continuously strapped to their beds or kept in straitjackets and lobotomized with psychiatric drugs. All usual psychiatric treatments were abandoned, also psychiatric drugs, unless a person wanted to continue to take them. Dr. Antonucci released the women from their confinement, spending many, many hours each day talking with them, in order to establish a communication. He listened to stories of years of desperation and institutional suffering.
He ensured that patients were treated with respect and without the use of psychiatric drugs. In fact, under his guidance, the ward was transformed from the supposed most violent in a self-managed ward. After a few months, his “dangerous” patients were free, walking quietly in the garden and in the city streets. Most of them were discharged from the hospital and could go back to their families, but if someone wanted, could stay there, and was given two keys: one for the front door and the other for his own room. Afterwards, many of them had been taught how to work and care for themselves for the first time in their lives.
Dr. Antonucci’s major results also came at a much lower cost. Such programs constituted a permanent testimony of the existence of both genuine answers and hope for the seriously troubled.
Dacia Maraini, one of the most famous Italian writers, in an interview with Giorgio Antonucci wonders why, given the good results obtained, the same isn’t done in other wards: “First of all because it is very tiring – answers Antonucci with his quiet voice, – it took me five years of very hard work to restore confidence to these women; five years of conversations, even at night, of relationship face to face. This is not a technique, but a different way of conceiving human relationships.
“What is this new method which concerns the so-called mentally ill”? asks the writer. “For me it means that the mentally ill does not exist and psychiatry must be completely eliminated. Doctors should only treat body diseases. Historically in Europe psychiatry was born in a period in which society was organized in a stricter way, and it needed large displacements of manpower. During these deportations, under hard and hostile conditions, many people remained disturbed, confused, no longer produced goods and so there was the need to set them aside. Rosa Luxemburg said: “With the accumulation of capital and the movement of people, the ghettos of the proletariat widened”.
In the 17th century when the absolute monarchy (the State) takes form in France, the asylums were called “hospice places for poor people who annoy the community”.
Psychiatry came next, as an ideological cover. In Bleuler’s psychiatric treaty, the inventor of the term schizophrenia, it’s written that schizophrenics are those who suffer from depression, who stand still or obsessively run around the courtyard. But what else could they do so as inmates? Finally Bleuler concludes unintentionally comically: “They are so strange that sometimes they look like us”.