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Five decades ago, deinstitutionalization turned the Canadian mental health system inside out. Nearly 50,000 beds were closed in aging provincial asylums, and a new patient regime of short hospital stays, psychiatric drugs, and community services was set in place.

Harnessing history to help future mental health practitioners appreciate the merit and meaning of this complex and often troubling evolution, our website provides educators with a set of engaging and intelligent teaching resources. Community experts – people who have received mental health services – have added their reflections through writing, film, art and classroom activities, connecting the past and the present. Integrated into the curricula in a wide array of practice disciplines, these teaching materials will foster an appreciation among students about the history of deinstitutionalization and its legacies.

This project is an expression of our belief in the power of education to change minds and in the potential that each graduate carries with them as they move along different educational pathways into diverse organizational settings and practice contexts.


Models of Practice

What works for people using mental health services? Inspiring practice models presented in this module demonstrate pathways to empowerment, community and wellbeing.

Stigma and Discrimination

How can we challenge intolerance and inequity in the mental health world? In this module, early media efforts at public education are presented alongside accounts of stigma and discrimination experienced by current service users.

Mapping Emotions

Why should practitioners learn about  the emotional experiences of using mental health services? Exploring poetry and artwork on a map of emotions, this module fosters a deeper respect for the humanity of service users.

Advocacy and Activism

How can practitioners harness the potential of community activism? Recognizing citizenship as a tool for positive mental health, this module gives insight into peer support and collective empowerment.

Medicine and Power

Why do medical treatment models dominate in mental health? Unpacking the medical model of mental health, this module gives perspective on the merit of professional power.

Policy into Practice

What were the first blueprints for deinstitutionalization? Comparing past and present, this module provides perspective on gaps between well-intentioned community programming and the mechanisms of living with mental health difficulties.

Using this site

Created in consultation with instructors at Canadian colleges and universities, History in Practice/ École folle is designed to be functional, flexible, and easy to use. With “takeaway” module and unit learning objectives, extensive lesson planning tools, 80 learning activities and over 400 photographs, graphics, documents, videos and audio recordings, the site is a virtual plethora of possibilities.

History in Practice / École folle (Mad School/École folle) includes short pieces and activities for instructors with just a little extra room in their curriculum, and extensive, in-depth resources for programs with space for an extended sojourn in mental health. Learners from subject-based disciplines like history, sociology and disability studies will find the Mad School/École folle resources valuable and compelling, but this site was specifically created for future mental health practitioners. The Mad School/École folle learning objectives, “takeaways”, and accompanying components and learning activities are designed to foster critically responsive and effective mental health practice. Instructors can customize lesson plans by selecting the resources that fit teaching and learning needs and interests.

How We Did It

Our project began with findings generated during a 5-year CIHR-funded national study of deinstitutionalization in Canada.

College and university instructors told us how they wanted this history used in diverse curricula to train mental health practitioners. Our research team sought advice from people who received mental health services. They shared ideas about better equipping practitioners to improve these services and, consequently, the health and wellbeing of those who receive them. Together, we identified key educational themes and then used our historical data to find engaging intersections between past and present.

An exciting idea came from this partnership! Community experts would create written and visual materials to tell the stories and the history of post-asylum mental health.

Additional funding allowed us to include French language content and two units on geriatric mental health, bring in more voices and art from Indigenous peoples and make these pages fully accessible.