The Study of the Human Past

“Island of the Pariahs: the History of the Leros Psychiatric Hospital (1957-1995)”

Karydaki Danae

Research ProposalConferenceResearch ResultsShort BioPublications

Summary of the Research Proposal

The aim of my research proposal is to produce the first systematic historical account of the Leros Psychiatric Hospital (LPH), from its establishment in 1957, until 1995, when the first stage of its deinstitutionalisation was completed due to the actions of the Group of Leros. So far, attempts to produce such an account have only been made by psy-professionals. Hence, the first systematic historical account of the LPH, important as it is in its own right, will come to complement the social, political, and cultural history of Greece in the second half of the 20th century, as well as the very history of European psychiatry. Within this framework, my research proposal seeks to draw on a range of unexamined primary sources and secondary literature, in order to provide a narrative centred around three key topics: (a) What were the practices, policies and living conditions in the LPH in different historical periods? What are the similarities and differences with other Greek mental hospitals of the time, and how have the actions of the Group of Leros contributed to the reform of Greek psychiatry? (b) How can the LPH and the Group of Leros be historicized in the broader social, cultural, and political framework of 20th-century Greece? (c) What does the history of the LPH and the Group of Leros add to a comparative history of European psychiatry?

This research project was funded by the Research Centre for the Humanities (RCH), with the support of the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation.

To view the conference’s program in Greek, click here.

Research: “The Island of the Pariahs: a history of the Leros Psychiatric Hospital (1957-1995)”

Researcher: Dr. Danae Karydaki

The research project The Island of the Pariahs: a history of the Leros Psychiatric Hospital (1957-1995)” was funded by the Research Centre for the Humanities (RCH) for the year 2018, with the support of the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation.

On 7 May 1957, the “Psychopaths’ Colony of Leros”, as it was called at the time, was established on the Greek island of Leros through a Royal Decree by the conservative government of Konstantinos Karamanlis. The first patients were transferred there in early 1958. Its purpose was not to host the mentally ill or intellectually disabled people of the Dodecanese but to relieve the existing mental hospitals of big cities. In 1961, the Leros PIKPA Asylum also opened its gates on the island as part of a large network of institutions that belonged to the Patriotic Institution for Social Welfare and Protection (PIKPA).

Leros was chosen because of its infrastructure, namely the former Italian naval base built on the island during the interwar period. These Italian buildings were also used to accommodate young communists, delinquents or children of working-class families as a Royal Technical School in the 1950s and served as a place of exile for political dissidents during the Junta of the colonels.

In 1964, the institution was renamed as “Leros Psychiatric Hospital” and in 1976, after its merging with Leros General Hospital, it was relaunched as “State Sanitarium of Leros”. Yet, the living conditions for the inmates of the psychiatric hospital continued to be described as appalling. In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, especially due to an initiative taken by a group of young Leros doctors and deinstitutionalisation activists (the Group of Leros), the horrible situation of Leros appeared in the national media on various instances. However, not until 1989, when the Leros scandal was presented on the headlines of the British Observer newspaper, did the state take seriously the accusations and launch the deinstitutionalisation of Leros in particular and the reform of Greek psychiatry more generally.

The case of Leros—which, because of both geography and distance from urban centres, resembles a natural prison—is crucial in the context of this project because it illustrates the practice of excluding, excommunicating, and, indeed, taking the greatest possible physical distance from people with mental health issues and intellectual disability in the mid-20th century. Hence, the research project “The Island of the Pariahs: a history of the Leros Psychiatric Hospital (1957-1995)” sought to produce the first historical account of the psychiatric hospital of Leros and rescue this diachronic story of systematic exclusion and incarceration from oblivion.


Danae Karydaki was born in Athens in 1988. She is a 20th -century historian interested in historiography, social history of psychiatry, history of psychoanalysis, gender history, history of violence, history of human rights, and medical humanities. Her post-doc research, conducted under the auspices of RCH, focuses on the history of the Leros Psychiatric Hospital (1957-1995) in the context of 20th century social, cultural, and political history of Greece. She completed her PhD on post-war British historiography of mass violence with a special focus on the use of ‘psy’-theories in the study of history at Birkbeck, University of London, where she also worked as a teaching assistant at the Departments of History and Politics. She has published articles and book reviews in several journals and edited volumes and she is now preparing her monograph “The Meaning of Evil: History and Psychoanalysis in the Columbus Centre (1961-1981)”.





Selected Publications

  • Karydaki, Danae, ‘National Socialism and the English Genius: Revisiting George Orwell’s Political Views on Nazi Ideology’, Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust, (2016), 30:1, 53-73.
  • Karydaki, Danae, ‘Nazism’s Inner Demons: Psychoanalysis and the Columbus Centre’ in S. Bar-Haim & H. Tyson eds., Psychoanalysis and the Humanities in the 21st Century, Routledge (forthcoming 2018).
  • Karydaki, Danae, ‘Freud Under the Acropolis: the Challenging Journey of Psychoanalysis in Twentieth-Century Greece (1915-1995)’ History of the Human Sciences, (forthcoming 2018).
  • Karydaki, Danae, ‘A Greek Neverland: The History of the Leros Asylums Inmates with Intellectual Disability (1958-1995)’ in Simon Jarrett & Jan Walmsley eds. People, Policy and Practice: Intellectual Disability in the Twentieth Century, Policy Press, (forthcoming 2018).


Selected Presentations

For a list of presentations in Greek, browse to the Greek page.