Psychiatric Institutions in Colonial Southeast Asia

Full panel title

Psychiatric Institutions in Colonial Southeast Asia: New Research and Comparisons


Hans Pols (University of Sydney)

Date and time

Double session

12 August, 11:00 – 12:30
12 August, 14:00 – 15:30


Room 45


Session I

  • A Mental Health System in the Colonies? The Case of the Dutch East Indies
    Sebastiaan Broere (Utrecht University)
  • Suicide in the Dutch East Indies Newspapers around the Turn of the Twentieth Century
    Liesbeth Hesselink (KITLV)
  • Documenting les Dingues: Geographies of Madness in British Burma and French Indochina
    Trude Jacobsen (Northern Illinois University)

Session II

  • Colonial Psychiatry beyond the Asylum in Burma
    Jonathan Saha (University of Bristol)
  • The Trading Zone of Psychiatric Epidemiological Studies between Taiwan and the WHO in Early Postwar Period
    Harry Yi-Jui Wu (Nanyang Technolgical University)

Discussant: Hans Pols (University of Sydney)

Discussant: Harry Yi-Jui Wu (Nanyang Technological University)

Panel abstract

Over the past twenty to thirty years, various researchers have explored the role of mental hospitals in colonial societies by focusing on their role in maintaining social control, formulating an ideology of benign colonialism, and as an institution to take care of individuals suffering from a wide range of chronic conditions. Various assumptions about the significance of race, ethnicity, and social class on the nature and expression of mental illness as well as the organisation of mental hospitals have been explored. Most of this research has focused on mental hospitals in Africa and India. In this panel, we aim to bring together a number of scholars on the history of mental hospitals and the activities of psychiatrists outside these institutions in Southeast Asia.

Several researchers have already concluded that mental hospitals in Southeast Asia faced challenges that were very similar to those faced by such institutions elsewhere, such as overcrowding, problems related to discharging patients to the community, the often cumbersome procedures involved with commitment, and the great expense in building, running, and maintaining mental hospitals. In this panel we focus how these challenges were met in different colonial spaces in Southeast Asia. In addition, we focus on the interactions between psychiatrists within Southeast Asia at conferences of Far Eastern Association of Tropical Medicine and other meetings. Physician relied on these interactions to a greater extent than on their ties with the colleagues in Europe. In this panel we explore the formation of a psychiatric discourse specific to Southeast Asia—both within, and outside the mental hospital.