Social networks and the deinstitutionalization of mental patients
Centre for Social Studies / School of Economics University of Coimbra Coimbra, Portugal
Centre for Social Studies University of Coimbra Coimbra, Portugal
Portugal is experiencing a process of deinstitutionalization of mental patients which needs to be studied and evaluated in what concerns its effects. The 1998 Mental Health Act establishes that care is primarily provided at the level of the community and that local services constitute the base of the national system of mental health. But the fact is that local services of mental health have not been created, rehabilitation units are scarce, socio-occupational and residential programs are inadequate. Thus, there is an urgent need to study the effects of this inconsistent process of deinstitutionalization on patients and their families.
This paper focuses on this question, addressing the impact of deinstitutionalization on the lives of patients, the relations between healthcare institutions and citizens with mental illness, the role of families and social networks in providing care to patients, and the articulation of formal and informal mental health care.
The paper presents the preliminary results of a qualitative research on this matter, analyzing interviews to mental patients and their formal and informal carers. The study shows that: 1) state action is characterized by weakness and inefficacy; 2) deinstitutionalization policies show a discrepancy between premises and outcomes; 3) healthcare policies have been following the model of deinstitutionalization, but have not actually put it into practice; 4) the action of the family and primary social networks is characterized by flexibility and efficacy; 5) deinstitutionalization entails a burden for families.