Sbatti il matto in prima pagina. I giornali italiani e la questione psichiatrica prima della legge Basaglia

Pier Maria Furlan
Roma, Donzelli, 433 pp., € 32.00

Anno di pubblicazione: 2016

A book based upon an extraordinary work of research and documentation, Sbatti il
matto in prima pagina details the way the Italian press dealt with issues relating to psychiatry
and asylums in a period from the late 1960s to the so-called «Basaglia Law» of 1978.
Furlan shows how print media and journalists became interested in the changes going
on in the system at the time thanks to the work of Franco Basaglia and others, but also
details the ways that journalists uncovered and investigated the conditions experienced
by mental health patients at the time. Looking at more than 1200 articles, Furlan argues
that «attraverso i giornali possiamo non solo ritrovare l’analisi e la saggistica di rottura,
di trasformazione e anche di invito alla cautela, ma altresì cogliere la complessità della
resistenze, delle opposizione, dagli interessi che permettevano di ignorare o giustificare
condizioni di degrado e di violenza non paragonabili a nessun’altra istituzione, carceri
comprese» (p. VIII).
There are some absolutely fascinating sections here on various scandals and news
stories linked to the period of reform and change in the psychiatric hospital and mental
health system in that period. For example, Furlan dedicates a sizeable section to the case
of the psychiatrist Giorgio Coda, the so-called «elettricista di Collegno», who was accused
of torturing patients under his care and was put on trial in 1974. La Stampa wrote at the
time that «le testimonianze dei pazienti, in proposito, sono agghiaccianti» (p. 239). At
the trial the lawyer Bianca Guidetti Serra was quoted as saying «in questo processo non ci
potranno essere né vinti, né vincitori, perché non si può ripagare la sofferenza» (p. 241).
Coda was found guilty and given a five year prison sentence. But he escaped prison on a
technicality. In 1977, Coda was attacked by four armed young people (calling themselves
the Prima linea). He survived.
Many journalists became specialists in covering these areas, and some were strong
supporters of the Basaglia movement. But there was also a fair amount of hostility, especially
around «incidents» that occurred during the closure of the asylums. The book ends
with the 180 law of 1978. A national debate accompanied this measure, with positions
for and against the reform. And this division continues to this day. It was clear that the
law alone was not enough. Years of work would be needed to «close» the asylum system.
This book provides both a lucid analysis of mental illness and the various developments
that affected the system in Italy. But it also contains extremely rich source material
both in terms of direct quotes and also references to other articles. As such, it is a rarity
being both useful to further study and fascinating in its own right, for those who work on
Italian history, psychiatry but also for those attentive to the way the press and journalism
works and has worked in Italy.

 John Foot