ADIR - L'altro diritto

ISSN 1827-0565

Primary and secondary deviance
The case of compulsory health treatment

Silvia Sbordoni, 1998


This research examines the therapeutic, familiar and social aspects of compulsory health treatment for mental illness in Italy. The framework of the research has been provided by the influential works of Edwin Lemert, who studied attentively the sociological implications of mental disorders and of compulsory treatments. In such a context Lemert developed the distinction between primary and secondary deviance, a notion that become a guiding principle for the American deviance sociology, and for the Italian movement for alternative psychiatry.

After a survey of the American sociological literature (Lemert, but also Goffman, Matza, Becker, Scheff, Schur, Taylor, Walton, Young, Hester, Eglin), the research proceeds examining the private, administrative and criminal laws that regulate this issue in Italy. Particular relevance is given to the 1978 law n. 180, that represents a topic moment in the evolution of the Italian legislation, and that pays and unprecedented attention to the protection of the dignity and of the fundamental rights of those who undergo compulsory mental treatment.

The research describes also the features, the procedural aspects, the structure and the guiding lines of compulsory mental treatment, as fixed by the n. 180 law. As short discussion follows of the few and minor legislative interventions on these issues that followed the 1978 law.

Another relevant part of the research is an empirical study of the psychiatric services in Florence area. The actual functioning of these services is presented through interviews with their staff, whereas interviews with majors, policemen and tutelary magistrates unveil the actual functioning of the procedures that lead to compulsory hospitalization.

The final part of the dissertation examines the therapeutic, familiar and social history of four persons that at least once in their life underwent compulsory mental treatment. This empirical part of the research seems to confirm what Lemert maintained on compulsory hospitalization and on the process of social exclusion of the mental disordered.