This knowledge base (KB) explores mental healthcare’s often misunderstood and controversial history within New Zealand. It’s hoped that the information is a starting point for discussion, debate and reflection.

Using source material, we look at how we defined and managed those deemed ‘abnormal’ in our society. You can find out how we went from inmates in lunatic asylums to patients in mental hospitals. You can read about the evolution of treatment methods from electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), lobotomy, sterilisation to drug therapy. You can discover why and how our healthcare system developed the way it did.

Mental hospitals were not just for those suffering from mental illness. Also institutionalised were the elderly, drunk, deaf, blind, physically disabled, epileptic, ‘social deviant’ and ‘mentally retarded’. Children were generally integrated with adults.

Eventually most ‘mentally retarded’ children would be separated out by the Department of Education, Special and Industrial Schools Branch. The remainder, considered too defective, continued life under the umbrella of mental healthcare as patients within mental hospitals.

For usability, material is presented as articles divided into subject related topics. Full references are given at the end of each article for those wishing to undertake a more in-depth study. Where possible digitised original sources are available in the online library.

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