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Post-doctoral fellow @ Canadian Observatory on Homelessness


Dr. Karen Naidoo is currently a post-doctoral fellow with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. Her work with the COH primarily concentrates on content development and knowledge mobilization within Making the Shift division. Karen holds a PhD in Education from York University and her research interests focus on understanding how young Canadian-Caribbean people living in Canada respond to mental health issues. Karen also works in parts of the Anglo-Caribbean on projects that draw attention towards youth, mental health, and education while instructing courses in the Caribbean Studies Certification Program at Ryerson University, Toronto.

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Colonialism’s crucible: Exploring Caribbean colonial legacies and decolonial practices


Braiding Sanity: Unpacking the colonial history and the asylum system in Guyana

British-styled asylums emerged in the Anglo-Caribbean in 1869, with the first location in Guyana. These asylums differed drastically from the European’s concept of asylums that treated the mentally unhealthy. Asylums in the Caribbean took the form of institutional boot camps, brutally disciplining formally-enslaved Africans and later Indentured Indians who did not comply with the parameters of slavocracy. Eleven years after its inception, the Lunatic Asylum (now known as the Berbice Asylum) grew in popularity, housing an average of almost 100 people per day who threatened the plantation workforce (Gramaglia, 2008). Sanity aligned as favourable to the colonial project, and the Lunatic Asylum became a premise of reforming the racialized individual, creating a more manageable free-laboured workforce (Gramaglia, 2008; Mills, 2000). Today, the Berbice Asylum continues to be the main structure of psychiatric care in Guyana. Knowing that the legacy of colonialism has been deeply ingrained in the formerly colonized minds (Foucault, 1963; Fanon, 1967), mental health care in the region is seen as extensions of former asylums partially because pain and shame were a part of the disciplining tactics. These formal colonial practices are evident in contemporary understandings of mental health care. This presentation will illustrate the correlation between the colonial legacy and cultural perceptions of mental healthcare in Guyana, drawing from two participants’ experiences.

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