Deinstitutionalization and psychiatric reform in Spain

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Abstract

The transformation of psychiatric care which has been carried out in Spain since the 1980s, under the name of “Psychiatric Reform”, had produced as it most significant achievements: (i) the development of a new organizational structure for mental health care, (ii) the integration of psychiatric patients in the general health care system, (iii) the creation of an extensive community network of mental health centers, and (iv) the adoption by the general public of more positive attitudes towards mental illness and its treatment and the passing of legislative measures aimed at improving the civil rights of these patients. However, the application of the Psychiatric Reform has followed an uneven course in Spain as a whole, with marked differences between the different autonomous communities. The main deficiency has been in the development of intermediate community services and programs to rehabilitate and resettle patients in the community. With regard to deinstitutionalization, the results have also been insufficient and it is still possible to observe a strong tendency, within the system, to maintain the old mental hospitals for both long-term and short-term illness care. Finally, the analysis of the Spanish experience has revealed that (i) many of the criticisms leveled at deinstitutionalization are not aimed at its “conceptual core” but stem from its inadequate implementation, and (ii) it is wrong to equate deinstitutionalization and psychiatric reform with closure of psychiatric hospitals, without the awareness that this process is far more complex.