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date: 24 June 2022

Psychiatry and Insanity in Mexico, 1876–1968locked

Psychiatry and Insanity in Mexico, 1876–1968locked

  • Andrés Ríos MolinaAndrés Ríos MolinaInstituto de Investigaciones Históricas, National Autonomous University of Mexico


In Mexico, there were hospitals for the “demented” from the early years of the Spanish colony. It was not until the second half of the 19th century, however, that the first physicians interested in alterations of the brain published articles on the etiology, symptomatology, and treatment of mental illnesses. Within a larger context of health reforms launched during the presidency of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1911), known as the Porfiriato, healthcare officials decided to close the hospitals for the insane and construct a modern institution where psychiatry could grow as a discipline and where patients could be treated using scientific methods. Furthermore, along with the economic and cultural development that took place during the Porfiriato, there was an increase in the number of patients admitted to hospitals for the insane, while at the same time the number of doctors interested in the clinical treatment of mental illnesses increased, as well. The officials’ decision became a reality on September 1, 1910—just two months before the Revolution broke out—when La Castañeda General Asylum was opened. It was a complex of twenty-four buildings in the town of Mixcoac. In addition to being an institution for patient care, it was also where the first generations of Mexican psychiatrists and neurologists were trained. As early as the 1930s, the asylum began to have problems with overcrowding, unhealthy conditions, and deterioration of the facilities. The doctors there repeatedly called for the patient care system to be restructured. In 1944, a psychiatric reform called the “Castañeda Operation” began, seeking to decentralize psychiatric care and to use agricultural work as a therapeutic tool. The result was the creation of seven new hospitals and the permanent closure of the asylum in 1968. Recent historiography on psychiatry from its beginnings in the Porfiriato to the time of that reform have shown that it was a period marked by the rise and fall of a utopian dream, that of the therapeutic effectiveness of psychiatric internment. It was a transition from the single, large asylum in the capital city to a network of hospitals that relied on outpatient care, early detection, and medication as a way to dismantle the asylum model. As a result, La Castañeda General Asylum has held a privileged place in historical study as the stage for the beginning, the development, and the consolidation of Mexican psychiatry.


  • History of Mexico
  • Social History
  • Science, Technology, and Health

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