Glenside Hospital catered for a patient’s basic needs. When it was first built in 1861 it may have seemed to some patients, who were not too traumatised by their illness, like a haven. For the poor, during its first 50 years in Victorian times, the hospital would have been so different to their daily experience: a place pre-welfare state, pre-National Health Service, which gave you a bed, clean sheets and three meals a day. At home people would have been used to sharing beds with relatives, living in one room with many people, and often having to work long hours to ensure they and their family did not starve.
Other patients may have been too ill to notice their surroundings while some, especially those used to a more refined life may have found the long corridors and stark interiors a bleak, unhappy place.
100 years on in 1961, and just over 15 years into the National Health Service, things had to change.
Apart from anything else the hospital was full. It was increasingly important, having provided people with a safe place to be looked after, to provide more support to help them return home.
If you have experience of institutions, such as a boarding school, care home, or the military you may recognise some aspects of life described.
However, this institution had the added element, like any hospital, where the people being served were vulnerable because they were ill. Patients in a mental hospital are especially vulnerable because their illness is the least understood and unlike a physical illness it is hidden within the skull and even now often difficult to define.
In 1994 Glenside Hospital was closed. These large institutions were closing across the country as they were deemed as redundant. With more sophisticated drugs, Care in the Community became more of a possibility. Many more people could be cared for in their own homes and smaller hospitals and houses took over the role of nursing those who needed more attention and support.
This next piece collects some thoughts from both patients and staff on the benefits of a large hospital and ‘Care in the Community’.
There is tension between providing the right level of care and giving people their independence so that they do not harm themselves or become dependent.
How can we help people with mental illness? It is a big question and not easy to answer.
These extracts summarise the dilemma.
The following piece perhaps provides some explanation to why there is still such debate on how best to treat mental illness.