It’s my birthday and I am far, far, far away from home. I’d much rather be at home in Glasgow with my family, but I am in Chicago instead on a research trip that culminates in a conference (more on that later). Where I am specifically is in Hyde Park, a neighbourhood made famous by the current president of the USA, Barack Obama, who is anxiously monitoring exit polls as I type. Or maybe he’s playing basketball. That’s what I’d do if I were him.
Anyway, I’m in Hyde Park, which is probably about the same size as that other Hyde Park. On balance I’d rather be in the latter, though I can see the merits of where I am right now. Hyde Park is a racially diverse, attractive neighbourhood that houses the University of Chicago. It’s the sort of place that makes you forget that 40 people were killed in Chicago on the July 4th weekend alone this summer in gun violence. So far in 2014 over 1500 people have been shot in Chicago. I imagine a few more have been stabbed, bludgeoned and strangled as well. It’s hard to imagine this until you walk into the University of Chicago library and note the sign that asks you politely not to smoke or bring your firearm into the building. In fact, however, you don’t have to wander far from here to enter the neighbourhoods where said guns are as common as wooly hats in November. A reminder that, like in much of the USA, Chicago has its good, its bad and its ugly. It is good to be in a neighbourhood where African Americans appear to be thriving, it makes you wonder about what will take to help all of those living not so far from here to make something of their lives as well.
Of course, such issues have long been acknowledged in Chicago. That’s why I’m here, examining archival material about social psychiatry, an approach to mental health that focussed on socioeconomic inequalities above all. I wonder what the proponents of social psychiatry would make of matters today. Appalled, of course, but equally convinced that they were right.