Beyond the aetiology debate: the “great LSD scandal” at Newhaven Private Hospital & the social foundations of mental health legislation in Victoria, Australia
AuthorLomax, Megan Kristine
AffiliationSchool of Historical and Philosophical Studies
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2017 Dr. Megan Kristine Lomax
This research presents a case for the extension of existing analyses of Australian psychiatric scandals beyond the conclusion that such events are an inherent feature of the profession by virtue of its failure to resolve the aetiology debate. A mid-century impasse in the aetiology debate – the continuous shifting over time of professional commitment between organic and environmental aetiologies of mental illness – has been identified as the catalyst for the emergence of the therapeutic paradigm of eclecticism that fostered the deep sleep therapy and ‘Therapeutic Community’ programs that were central to Australia’s two infamous psychiatric scandals at Chelmsford and Townsville, respectively. While these two affairs were enduring the scrutiny of commissions of inquiry, the recommendations of which translated to the legislative reform of mental health services in the states of New South Wales and Queensland, a third such scandal was unfolding at Newhaven Private Hospital in Victoria involving the “injudicious use” of therapeutic LSD. By the late 1980s and early 90s, a number of former “patients” of Newhaven emerged claiming that they had never suffered any mental illness and that the LSD they had received had not been administered for therapeutic purposes but rather as a recruitment tool for a fringe religious sect known as The Family that had commandeered the hospital and the loyalty of a number of its staff. What constituted the scandal at Newhaven, however, was the fact that these activities continued unchallenged despite the implementation of statutory regulations – the Poisons (Hallucinogenic Drugs) Regulations 1967 – designed specifically to protect against the abuse of therapeutic hallucinogens. Having avoided any formal inquiry of its own, the Newhaven case represented not only a compelling narrative history opportunity, but also a test of the robustness of the prevailing argument that such scandals emerge as a consequence of the profession’s failure to achieve consensus on the aetiology of mental illness against the implication that inadequate legislation facilitated the abuse. Using the case of Newhaven as a working example, this research analyses the historical mental health legislation of Victoria and parliamentary debates to construct a legislative history of the aetiology debate and confirm its role in the emergence of psychiatric scandal, arguing that the Poisons (Hallucinogenic Drugs) Regulations 1967, and indeed mental health policy more broadly, were in fact products of the debate. Furthermore, it demonstrates how, far from being insulated within the profession of psychiatry, the debate itself was informed by wider prevailing social, cultural, political and economic trends. The abuse of therapeutic LSD unfolded under permissive regulations which reflected the permissive nature of broader mental health policy embodied in the Mental Hygiene Acts and their signature initiative of deinstitutionalisation. This permissiveness was a symptom of the underlying atmosphere of eclecticism that characterised mid-century psychiatry in Victoria as it sought to accommodate simultaneously the biological and social bases for the eugenic and community-based measures, respectively, that developed in response to the co-emergent social forces of the ‘mental hygiene’ and ‘anti-psychiatry’ movements.
Keywordshistory; psychiatry; LSD; mental health; legislation; Victoria; hallucinogens
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