Research on the Mental Health System

The issue of social suffering has assumed an increasing importance in the public interpretation of, and the political response to, the social question in France during the past two decades. Mental health and social work programs based on this approach focus primarily on adolescents and youth belonging to the disadvantaged segments of society, often of immigrant origin. In the second half of the 1990s, “listening centers” were created, followed in the early 2000s by “homes for adolescents,” which develop networks of professionals and institutions to treat psychopathological and social problems.

The lexicon of suffering and listening can be seen as participating in a form of depoliticization. By translating the social question into psychopathological disorders, it eludes confronting the reality of inequalities and becomes an instrument for the pacification of the poor neighborhoods. However, in the everyday work of mental health professionals, the management of the adolescents and youth, the interactions with their families, and the relationships with the educational, social and judicial fields pose difficult moral and emotional questions. How do psychologists and psychiatrists deal with these tensions and dilemmas? How are values and affects involved in mental health care?

To delve further, Isabelle Coutant and Jean-Sébastien Eideliman engaged in the ethnography of a recently opened “home for adolescents” situated in a general hospital. They examined the psychological effects of social experiences, such as employment insecurity, immigration concerns, and difficult living conditions, and analyzed the implications of mental health interventions on both the social trajectories of teenagers and the moral and emotional economies of families. Samuel Lézé and Richard Rechtman contributed to this research via a reflection on the transformation of mental health care for adolescents and youth.