Psychiatric reform in Italy

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Psychiatric reform in Italy is the reform of psychiatry which started in Italy after the passing of Basaglia Law in 1978 and terminated with the very end of the Italian state mental hospital system in 1998.[1] Among European countries, Italy was the first to publicly declare its repugnance for a mental health care system which led to social exclusion and segregation.[2]


The reform was directed towards the gradual dismantling of the psychiatric hospitals and required a comprehensive, integrated and responsible community mental health service.[3]:665 The object of community care is to reverse the long-accepted practice of isolating the mental ill in large institutions, to promote their integration in the community offering them a milieu which is socially stimulating, while avoiding subjecting them to too intense social pressures.[3]:664


In August, 1971, Franco Basaglia became the director of the provincial psychiatric hospital located in Trieste.[4] With a group of young physicians not yet influenced by traditional psychiatry, such as Giorgio Antonucci, who worked on the dismantling of two mental hospitals of Imola,[5]—as well as psychologists, volunteers and students, Basaglia started an intense project for the theoretical-practical criticism of the institution of the asylum.[4] At that time, there were approximately 1,200 patients in the San Giovanni psychiatric hospital, most of them were under compulsory treatment.[4] From 1971 to 1974, the efforts of Franco Basaglia and his equipe were directed at changing the rules and logic which governed the institution, putting the hierarchy in question, changing the relations between patients and operators, inventing new relations, opportunities and spaces, and restoring freedom and rights to the inmates.[4]

In the hospital being transformed, guardianship was substituted by care, institutional abandonment by the full assumption of responsibility for the patient and their condition, while the negation of the individual through the concept of illness-danger was replaced by the conferring of importance and value to individual life histories.[4] Any form of physical containment and shock therapy was suppressed, the barriers and mesh which had enclosed the wards were removed, doors and gates were opened, compulsory hospitalizations became voluntary and definitive ones were revoked, thus the patients regained their political and civil rights.[4]

Main characteristics[edit]

Michele Tansella specified the main characteristics of the Italian experience:[3]:668

  • community care as the principal component of the system;
  • a relatively low dose of inpatient care, avoiding treating any new patients in mental hospital;
  • a very careful integration between the various facilities within the geographically based system of care, the same team providing outpatient as well as inpatient and community care.

The closure of various hospital settings became possible because of constant reduction of in-patients number which in the course of years had the following dynamics:[6][clarification needed (Are the numbers expressing the number of psychiatric beds nationally?)]

1968: 4.633 1972: 3.385 1976: 2.684
1969: 4.508 1973: 3.037 1977: 2.492
1970: 4.054 1974: 2.937 1978: 2.176
1971: 3.634 1975: 2.834 1979: 1.710[6]


Giovanna Russo and Francesco Carelli state that back in 1978 the Basaglia reform perhaps could not be fully implemented because society was unprepared for such an avant-garde and innovative concept of mental health.[7] Thirty years later, it has become more obvious that this reform reflects a concept of modern health and social care for mental patients.[7] The Italian example originated samples of effective and innovative service models and paved the way for deinstitutionalisation of mental patients.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Burti L. (2001). "Italian psychiatric reform 20 plus years after". Acta psychiatrica Scandinavica (410 Supplementum): 41–46. doi:10.1034/j.1600-0447.2001.1040s2041.x. PMID 11863050. 
  2. ^ Ramon, Shulamit; Williams, Janet (2005). Mental health at the crossroads: the promise of the psychosocial approach. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 57. ISBN 0-7546-4191-0. 
  3. ^ a b c Tansella M. (November 1986). "Community psychiatry without mental hospitals — the Italian experience: a review". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 79 (11): 664–669. PMC 1290535Freely accessible. PMID 3795212. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Del Giudice G. (1998). "Psychiatric Reform in Italy" (PDF). Trieste: Mental Health Department. Retrieved 5-10-2010.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  5. ^ "Dacia Maraini intervista Giorgio Antonucci" [Dacia Maraini interviews Giorgio Antonucci]. La Stampa (in Italian). 26 July, 29 and 30 December 1978.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. ^ a b "Dal 1968 al 1995: la prima fase del "superamento" dell'istituzione psichiatrica". Psichiatria e storia. Retrieved 2010-10-21. 
  7. ^ a b c Russo G., Carelli F. (May 2009). "Dismantling asylums: The Italian Job" (PDF). London Journal of Primary Care. 

External links[edit]