Southwest Youth Experience of Psychiatric Treatment in New Mexico

Thomas Csordas and Janis H. Jenkins (Co-PIs)


The study is intended to shed empirical light on the often-neglected sites of poor American communities that are ravaged by the violence of poverty and the economic consequences of the Great Recession, institutional and familial neglect, gang activity and substance abuse. A major concern is to identify what strategies youths create to elude such circumstances and under what conditions they succumb to these circumstances. Institutional and everyday neoliberal discourse on “personal responsibility” is analyzed in a context of choosing short-term psychiatric facilities as preferable to incarceration in prisons/detention centers. The problem of uncontrollable rage, and what can at times appear as heroic familial struggles to “contain” such powerful affects, has emerged as a central problem for the development of social, cultural, and political theorizing of youth culture and life worlds. The study examines psychological distress, cultural meaning/dissonance, and structural violence among adolescents who are placed in residential psychiatric treatment facilities. Also studied are a comparison group of adolescents, who according to research diagnostic criteria do not have symptoms of mental illness.  The study was carried out with a multiethnic population (Latino/Hispanic, Native American, Anglo/Euro-American) utilizing a research protocol that is longitudinal and spans a wide geographical area, following participants after hospital discharge into a range of social settings including other psychiatric facilities, kin-based homes, foster care homes, schools, and neighborhoods.  Methods of study combine ethnographic interviews and observations, psychiatric diagnostic interviews, informal and unstructured interactions over time and across a range of social settings.


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