The shift from institutional to community mental health was among the most significant social changes of the late 20th century. Between 1965 and 1980 nearly 50,000 beds were closed in residential psychiatric facilities across Canada. De-institutionalization profoundly changed the lives of former patients and those who worked with them, impacting the larger economy, public health and social planning, and challenging ideas of individual rights and capabilities.

The first national project of its kind, After the Asylum presents this complex and often difficult history, making clear its continuing relevance. We examine early mental health initiatives, we consider how therapeutic and professional contours of care were reshaped, and we explore new consumer / user networks and cultures that emerged. Many of the exhibits speak to the continuing social and economic marginalization of those deemed mentally ill, whose lives are often poignant testaments to the limits of a reconstituted mental health system.

The After the Asylum project web pages have been co-created by academic scholars, community partners, students, activists, and people whose lives have intersected with de-institutionalization in various ways. Gathering this history and making it public has been a powerful and often hopeful process, reminding us that we must constantly push the boundaries of what is considered possible in the mental health world.

Policy & Practice

A male mental health doctor and a female mental health nurse read from a book entitled 'Closed Ranks'

De-institutionalization was a big idea of policy makers and professionals of the 1950s and 1960s. What lay behind this shift in mental health policy, and who were the professional actors in this process?

Peer Support & Activism

A woman sits and reads a newspaper with the headline 'In a Nutshell' while a man cooks on a stove in the background.

Community living opened up the option - and the necessity - of former patients coming together, creating survivor / consumer support groups and finding common cause in activism and shared cultural expression.

Community Initiatives

A woman sits and reads a newspaper with the headline 'In a Nutshell' while a man cooks on a stove in the background.

The shift out of the institution brought both negative and positive responses from the larger community. Here, we demonstrate different ways in which support and social integration were crafted in the world outside the asylum.

Early De-institutionalization Cases

A woman sits and reads a newspaper with the headline 'In a Nutshell' while a man cooks on a stove in the background.

History can be a fascinating opportunity to ask, What if?, for a community mental health model is not unique to the late 20th century. In different times and situations, interested individuals have worked to develop community-based options.