University of Pittsburgh
January 15, 2004

Pitt to Host British Mental Health Expert John Wilkinson Thursday, Jan. 22.

Lecture to address risk assessment and its consequences on mental health services
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH—On Jan. 22, the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate Program for Cultural Studies, with support from the University Center for International Studies, will present a lecture by John Wilkinson, assistant director of the North East London Strategic Health Authority. The lecture will take place at 5:30 p.m. in room 4-D56 Wesley W. Posvar Hall, Schenley Drive, in Oakland.

Wilkinson, who is responsible for mental health policy in eight London boroughs—the most economically deprived areas of the United Kingdom—will discuss the practice of risk assessment in mental health services. He will address how social service agencies categorize the mentally ill and the consequences such categorizations have on mental health services.

Nancy Condee, director of the Graduate Program for Cultural Studies, described Wilkinson's talk as an event that "brings together the fields of psychiatry, public health, and social work in a challenging analysis of the collective assumptions of social and psychological 'normalcy.'"

The Cultural Studies Program is an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program of 20 departments. Faculty and graduate students from the humanities and social sciences, working beyond the confines of existing departmental structures, address issues concerning the political dynamics of cultural conflicts.

"As insurance actuarial figures, criminal justice norms, and business management policy increasingly impinge on diagnosis and access to key social service resources, the notion of 'risk assessment' is shaped by complex issues of profit and control," Condee comments. "Wilkinson's talk, based on his work in North East London, raises difficult questions about our own interests and claims concerning the care of the mentally ill."

The history of risk assessment in mental health is exemplary in its success, having assumed the role once occupied by diagnosis, while risk management seeks to place under surveillance and reorder every aspect of patients' lives. At the same time, however, insurance and business risk assessment increasingly shapes the provision of mental health services.

At present, Wilkinson is a Fulbright Scholar at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research in Orangeburg, N.Y.