School of History

Psychiatric Epidemiology

This project, which was established in 2007, is funded by the Wellcome Trust(link is external) (2007-12). The named investigator is Dr Rhodri Hayward. The project, draws on our strengths in twentieth-century medical and political history to trace the development of the new discipline of psychiatric epidemiology in the United Kingdom and its and its role in transforming psychological states into objects of government policy and intervention.

The project explores the significance of the new approach through six inter-related investigations. These will map out the social, intellectual and institutional origins of the discipline; its use in mediating industrial relations, the management of morale during the Second World War, urban planning, the organisation of mental health services and reconstruction of psychiatric classification.

We will detail the changing methods and objects of investigation, demonstrating how the epidemiological approach led to the development of new models of mental illness and personality, new assessments of clinical practice and new forms of political rhetoric and governmental action.

Tracing the evolution of this new discipline in twentieth-century Britain along with related developments in statistics and medical science, the project will show how psychiatric epidemiology has provided new ways of imagining our mental health.

Instead of seeing sanity as undermined only by trauma, inheritance or infection, we now inhabit a landscape of psychological risks ranging from toxic relationships to emotional exploitation. Exploring the history of psychiatric epidemiology allows us to recover the story of a major transformation in the way that we imagine our identities and our relationship with the environment.