From Containment to Resilience: A Genealogy of the Governance of Mental Abnormality in Canada

  • Author / Creator
    Phillips, Janet M
  • This dissertation uses a governmentality lens to map shifts in the categorization, problematization, and governance of mental abnormality in Canada, from pre-Confederation times until the present. Focusing in particular on several recent consultations and reports issued by the federal government and the province of Ontario, the dissertation asks: What is novel about how those categorized as mentally abnormal (TCAMA) are framed in recent public transcripts? Are these documents indicative of a paradigm shift in how mental abnormality is understood? If so, what does this mean for the future governance of TCAMA? This dissertation surveys, primarily through a discursive lens, past approaches to the governance of mental abnormality in Canada. Three overarching governing mentalities – containment, medicalization, and deinstitutionalization – are examined. For much of Canadian history the governance of TCAMA was informed by the idea of containment, which relied on technologies such as work therapy, mental testing, and sterilization to isolate lunacy, insanity, and feeblemindedness from broader society. By the mid-twentieth century, mental abnormality was reframed as mental illness, which like other illnesses, was thought to be treatable with surgery and pharmaceuticals. Later, deinstitutionalization emptied out psychiatric hospitals and hospital wards, prescribing community-based treatment programmes in their place. However, these services were never fully installed, resulting in criminalization, poverty, homelessness, and by the early 2000s, a crisis in a deinstitutionalization mentality. The dissertation next deploys a Foucauldian discourse analysis to examine testimonies collected during the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (SSCSST) (2003-2006) and Legislative Assembly of Ontario (LAO) (2009-2010) investigations into mental illness and mental health. It maps the problems and solutions with Canada’s mental health system, as identified by seven different groups. Four final reports are then juxtaposed with the preceding testimonies: the LAO’s Navigating the Journey to Wellness (2010); the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s Open Minds, Healthy Minds (2011); the SSCSST’s Out of the Shadows at Last (also known as the Kirby Report) (2006); and, the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s (MHCC) Changing Directions, Changing Lives (2012). The final reports contained dominant prevention and recovery discourses, which the dissertation locates within a proposed fourth mentality: resilience. Resilience is an experimental mentality that centres mental health while deemphasizing mental illness. It informs prevention and recovery, programmes which individualize and responsibilize TCAMA for their own fates. Resilience moves away from either/or categorizations of mental illness to locate everyone on the same mental health continuum. This continuum draws a new line between normal/abnormal, not on the basis of diagnosed mental illness, but on one’s ability to adapt to, or bounce back, from life’s challenges, regardless of social inequities.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2018
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Morrow, Marina (Health Policy and Management, York University)
    • Davidson, Judy (Physical Education and Recreation)
    • Kellogg, Catherine (Political Science)
    • Harder, Lois (Political Science)