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RebPsych 2020: Decolonizing Mental Health

In 1953, the black Martinique-born psychiatrist Frantz Fanon began working for the French psychiatric service in the colony of Algiers. From his position as a psychiatrist, Fanon critiqued colonial psychiatry’s inherent violence and its role in the psychological subjugation of the Algerian people. His work inspired anticolonial and revolutionary movements by political actors, including mental health professionals, across the global South. In the 1970s, Fanon was required reading in the political re-education of activist physicians working with the Black Panthers, and today, Indigenous thinkers continue to cite his writing in their critiques of ongoing settler colonialism in the United States, Canada, and Australia.

RebPsych 2020, to be held April 3, 2020 at Yale University, asks what decolonizing mental health looks like today, and how we can build on these past efforts. We want to imagine the decolonization of our profession as broadly as possible, and encourage submissions from a diverse array of participants, including health professionals, activists, community organizers, scholars, clients, patients, artists, students, and writers. We hope to raise questions about the colonial institutions and frameworks that currently inform our understanding of mental illness, addiction, or psychosocial distress. For example, as psychiatry continues to “globalize,” how is it complicit in contemporary forms of imperialism? What counts as colonization today? Does it include human beings held in cages at the U.S.-Mexico border, global mental health initiatives, the pathologization of Indigenous culture, or even social justice initiatives within psychiatry? Are efforts to “decolonize mental health” actually in the service of settler colonial frameworks that assuage settler guilt and divert attention away from demands for repatriation of Indigenous land? At the same time, how can psychiatry offer theories and practices for political and psychological liberation and resistance against imperial power, as imagined by Fanon and others?

Possible topics include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Mental health and Indigeneity
  • Providing mental health to victims of colonization, including Indigenous groups
  • Mental health in post-colonial spaces
  • Mental health and immigration
  • Transcultural psychiatry and global mental health
  • Historical trauma
  • Psychological effects of imperialism and racism
  • Gendered dimensions of imperialism
  • History of colonial psychiatry and global mental health
  • Mental health activism
  • Climate change and climate justice
  • Efforts to decolonize the academy
  • Mental health and repatriation of Indigenous land

Submission Process

We would like to solicit proposals from a diverse array of participants, as noted above. We are especially interested in submissions representing Indigenous and First Nation perspectives. The conference will include traditional academic papers, panels, discussions of activist work, artistic projects, archival and museum initiatives, performances, and other presentations that address the theme of Decolonizing Mental Health. Creativity in form and format is encouraged! We hope to foster dialogue, partnerships, and sharing of ideas that will continue after the conference is over. Please submit proposals using the formhere by the deadline January 20, 2020.

The form will ask you to attach a one page detailed proposal summary. The summary of your proposal should include the following:

  • General session title (maximum of 150 characters, with spaces)
  • Participant information
    • Name, title, and institutional affiliation
    • Corresponding author’s contact information
  • Session objectives (maximum of 200 characters, with spaces, per objective)
    • Three to five objectives
    • Each objective will complete the statement "At the conclusion of this session, the participant will be able to:"
    • Use active verbs like "understand," "demonstrate," and "provide" to begin each objective.
  • Overall session abstract (maximum of 250 words)
    • The abstract should be a description of your session.
  • Agenda
    • The agenda should outline details about your lesson plan, teaching methods and a timeline of the session activities.
  • Topic
    • Select one to three topics that best describe your proposed session.

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