Before colonial rule, there were no psychiatric hospitals and mental patients stayed with their families in their communities. The ways that families and communities were involved in maintaining mental health in some African societies differed from the western ways. Colonisation came with cultural adjustments which brought changes to the social, economic way of the Africans. Colonialism came to define and enforce behavioural normality and isolate abnormality in the body politic. Colonialism relies on the internalized and pathological notions of dependency on the part of the Africans.
Sources in the history of colonial psychiatry reveal a great deal about what psychiatric practitioners, judges, police considered pathological. In colonial Zimbabwe the history of mental health belongs to the larger discourse of medicine and power, which refers to the dominance of a medical framework in the policing of social boundaries. The greater part of the discourse on mental health in colonial Zimbabwe is found in the works of Lynette Jackson.
In colonial Zimbabwe, western medicine was introduced by missionaries but most of the missionaries were not trained and had limited resources; hence, it left most of the Africans not catered for. The colonial government was forced to create rudimentary public health systems although most Africans preferred indigenous healers. Most of the scholarship on mental health is primarily on the history of psychiatric institutions while its evolution, how it affected different races, how psychiatric patients with different mental disorders were categorised has been not explored.
The history of mental health is entwined in the medical discourse. The scholarship on the history of mental health has looked at the ways in which colonial psychiatry has framed black men and women as insane in colonial Zimbabwe.Jackson argues that colonial mental health policy in Zimbabwe served as a powerful indictment against the colonizers “civilizing” claim. Jackson’s records of the history of Ingutstheni and notes that there were a growing number of female inmates from the period of 1911 with only 6 women to 23 by 1919 and throughout the 1930s and 1940s the female wards were described as agitated and unruly and overcrowded. Jackson argues that the asylum in Southern Rhodesia played a significant role in maintaining colonial social order.
Colonial psychiatry was an arm of the colonial state’s repressive power apparatus. The control of space, place and mobility through policies and practices of spatial organisation and regulation was a key variable in the project of colonial domination. Jackson’s study tells the story of Ingutsheni and its inmates, the stories of madness, race and colonialism are woven together in a holistic and sophisticated way. In Jackson’s study (Surfacing Up: Psychiatry and Social Order in Colonial Zimbabwe) her focus was primarily on the historiography of gender mainly regarding the mobility of African women. Jackson looks at constructions of the “mad woman” and examines the case records of 50 African women detained at Ingutsheni between 1932 and 1957.