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Canadian Journal of Public Health

, Volume 105, Issue 4, pp e280–e286 | Cite as

Public health perspectives on postwar mental health: Gender, housing and family in Kitimat, British Columbia, 1950s

  • Kelsey LucykEmail author
  • Lindsay McLaren
  • Frank Stahnisch
Qualitative Research

Abstract

BACKGROUND: The aftermath of World War II brought rapid change to the ways in which Canadian communities were designed and how their populations experienced their lives. The purpose of this study is to explore how mental health was understood and experienced in the context of the postwar period using the well-documented construction (in 1953) of the comprehensively planned, resource-based community of Kitimat, British Columbia as a case example.

METHODS: A qualitative content analysis of primary sources from Kitimat’s archival collections was conducted, and eight semi-structured, in-depth interviews were held with long-term residents to enrich the historical data. Findings were then interpreted to construct a historical narrative informed by an operationalized definition of mental health.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: Kitimat residents in the 1950s understood and experienced their lives in ways consistent with contemporary holistic conceptualizations of mental health, namely, their daily living experiences. A historic interpretation revealed that mental health was understood as something achieved and maintained through conformance with postwar ideals for gendered norms and the family unit, as well as being experienced through issues like housing and expectations of community living.

CONCLUSIONS: Understanding mental health demands consideration of local circumstances of time and place. The use of historical analysis in public health provides important evidence for how mental health was understood in the past, in a place and at a time when explicit modern language was limited, and illustrates the prominent role of the social determinants of health vis-à-vis population well-being. This article may be of special interest to those working collaboratively in the fields of public health and urban planning.

Key Words

Public health mental health urban planning history 20th century British Columbia 

Résumé

CONTEXTE : La fin de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale a donné lieu à des changements rapides dans la conception des villes canadiennes et dans la façon dont leurs habitants expérimentaient leur vie. Notre étude vise à explorer comment la santé mentale était comprise et expérimentée dans le contexte de l’après-guerre en prenant comme exemple l’édification bien documentée (en 1953) de Kitimat (Colombie-Britannique), une ville de ressources entièrement planifiée.

MÉTHODE : Nous avons mené une analyse qualitative du contenu de sources primaires tirées des archives de Kitimat et huit entrevues semidirectives approfondies avec des résidents de longue date pour enrichir les données historiques. Nous avons ensuite interprété ces constatations pour construire un récit historique, éclairé par une définition opérationnalisée de la santé mentale.

RÉSULTATS ET DISCUSSION : Les résidents de Kitimat dans les années 1950 comprenaient et expérimentaient leur vie conformément aux conceptualisations holistiques contemporaines de la santé mentale, c’està- dire leurs expériences de vie quotidiennes. Une interprétation historique révèle que la santé mentale était comprise comme étant acquise et maintenue en se conformant aux idéaux de l’après-guerre en matière de normes de genre et de groupe familial, et qu’elle était expérimentée à travers des enjeux comme le logement et les attentes par rapport à la vie en société.

CONCLUSIONS : Pour comprendre la santé mentale, il faut tenir compte des circonstances locales du temps et du lieu. Le recours à l’analyse historique en santé publique fournit des preuves importantes de la façon dont la santé mentale était comprise autrefois, dans un lieu et à une époque où le langage explicite moderne était limité, et illustre le rôle prédominant des déterminants sociaux de la santé dans le bien-être des populations. Notre article pourrait intéresser les professionnels qui favorisent la collaboration entre les domaines de la santé publique et de l’urbanisme.

Mots Clés

santé publique santé mentale urbanisme histoire du 20ème siècle Colombie-Britannique 

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Copyright information

© The Canadian Public Health Association 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kelsey Lucyk
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lindsay McLaren
    • 1
    • 2
  • Frank Stahnisch
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Community Health SciencesUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  2. 2.Population Health and Inequities Research CentreUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  3. 3.Department of HistoryUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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