Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Care for the mentally ill

Colchester in my youth not only had the most marvellous garrison in England, several square miles that provided everything a lad on a bike could want, from collecting lost live rounds from the firing range (an imprisonable offence today) to access to the officers' heated pool, but the town also had one of the finest mental hospitals that Victorian piety could produce. The patients staffed a vast steam laundry that processed linen from the nearby medical hospitals and kept the grounds beautifully manicured. The staff had a theatre and time to mount and rehearse Christmas pantos of a quality unrivalled by the town's little rep theatre. I recall Jack and the Beanstalk with Daleks - and what a wonder of light, smoke and thrills for both its youthful audience and the inmates in the auditorium. 

The inmates also included several artists of note. For some reason restricted to watercolour and gouache I bought or was given several and only discovered the distinguished nature of their creators in recent years. The inmates weren't dangerous, just odd. Those I met as a lad included a deaf man of about sixty - Bragg - who was completely sane, but had been committed as a child at a time when deafness was reason enough for institutionalising a child. When a man with a barrow of manure was asked by an inmate in the grounds for its purpose, the barrowman replied "It's to put on my strawberries". "Oh" came the confused response "I usually put sugar on mine". 

Of course the vast green oasis of calm, its sprawling ranges of red-brick buildings and its laundry were all shut down to be converted into a new housing estate. The inmates were moved to seaside bedsits in Clacton and Jaywick and permanently sedated. Many, after a lifetime of institutional care, simply couldn't cope. Much the same happened to much of the garrison. Today, the mentally ill are largely confined to prisons, living riskily amongst violent crims, druggies and Islamists, but at least no longer free to talk randomly to strangers on the bus, thus protecting the general population from oddness. 

It hardly needs repeating that the mentally ill are not lepers, that it's not contagious and that each day we ourselves are spared from becoming ill is a benison to be celebrated. But if we are made so uncomfortable by the non-violent mentally ill that we don't want them amongst us, and if it's frequently better for them to be housed and cared for in an institution apart from our daily lives, the very least we can do is not to use criminal prisons for the purpose. Really, this is not good. 

10 comments:

rapscallion said...

Concur. Its something of a paradox isn't it. We would happily commit people to these institutions for the flimsiest of reasons yet look after them relatively well by the standards of the day. Now, we just put them in a prison when they have done nothing wrong, and subject them to the really nasty and violent. I know Victorian society wasn't the most caring, but in many ways they got the basics right.

Any of us could be subject to mental illness - depression being one of them. Are we all to be incarcerated?

meltemian said...

Oh how I agree!
Back in the day my brother-in-law ran the area laundry in one of those hospitals.
There were patients working there alongside the employed which was good for everyone. The staff were helped by them in almost every department and they had a purpose in life.
Now the place has been turned into houses and apartments and the inmates are receiving "care in the community" which seems to be leaving them to their own devices most of the time. For those 'slightly odd' people who previously had a real community to belong to it can't, surely, give them a better quality of life?

wiggiatlarge said...

All very true, short cutting to "save" money has created a whole new world of people who longer get help and have to fend for themselves in environments they should not be in.

I used to live not that far from Colchester and remember visiting Severals Hospital when it was still functioning, not I might add for personal reasons, it had a remarkable reception hall full of murals which fits in with what you say about artists, and there is this short video which shows that.

https://youtu.be/ERdN90LEQSY

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

It must also be said that the provision for the dangerously disturbed is also failing with tragic results for random innocent people.

The scale of it is very deliberately hidden by our bureaucrats on their £1000 Herman Miller chairs.

I actually doubt money has been saved - it has simply been used to pad the seats of the bureaucrats - who irritatingly have also been busy decoupling from any consequences of their incompetence.

Institution is a dirty word for progressives - laundries, farms, grounds maintenance etc operated from communal accomodation would be a sensible substitute for the minefield that is care in the community.

In Wiltshire there are blocks of social housing where marginal cases are preferentially housed and the oddness distilled and spiced up with simply unbelievable clinical incompetence - resulting in a shock for average people parachuted in to what is effectively an institution anyway...

You might say that mental illness is not infectious - I know several people who have unwittingly allowed themselves to be housed in one of these places - who ended up questioning their own sanity.

Poisonedchalice said...

"Care in the community" - on the street more like.

Anyway, a long time ago my Uncle Norman knew a chap in a mental home and went to visit him. He took my Dad along as well. They chatted with this chap in his room (it was apparently a very pleasant place) and the chap said, right out of the blue - "I'm playing for England you know" and when questioned, he said "cricket - I'm off to play for the England cricket team". And when questioned again, he reached under his bed and pulled out a large cricket holdall and inside was all the paraphernalia to play a game of cricket; whites, pads, shoes, bats and balls; all in as new condition.

Then came the strange (but not so strange) thing. He turned to my Dad and said "I know you". Don't think so said my Dad. Yes, I do. You used to be the kid that trespassed on Heswall Golf Course; you used to steal the balls from the players and I used to chase you off; I was the groundsman at the time. My Dad looked again at this chap and realised - even though decades had past - that he was right. My Dad was the mischievous kid who stole the golf balls, and this was indeed the groundsman who used to chase him.

I wonder if he ever did play cricket?

Dave_G said...


Nowadays they'd be disguised as MPs and residing in the HoC and HoL.

But as a child we disparagingly refer to their accommodation as the local 'Looney Bin' - they were exactly as you describe Radders and, apart from chiding each other about the dangers of the inmates, were a central part of our local society and played an important role. We even understood that as kids.

But, as with everything that worked well, a consensus was created that forced people to accept, however unwillingly, the need for change and things went downhill fast.

I keep banging on about 'consensus' amongst my friends and relatives as I have come to recognise the evil it has come to represent - its enforcement (as good as) being used to disparage and dismiss the truth and facts it was clearly designed to mask.

Name a topical subject that hasn't been overtaken by consensus rather than fact.

Dr Evil said...

I say that closing down asylums is a bloody state crime. A crime against the people of the UK.

Anonymous said...

Back in the 60's my great grandmother went to one of those wonderful old peoples homes owned and run by Torbay Borough Council. The gardens were beautiful and the old folk had a first class view of Babbacombe and the bay beyond. Like so many it was sold off under Thatcher, however Thurza Setter - my Great Nan - had passed away long before on the day England lifted the Jules Remit Trophy.

Overall our society was probably the best in the world back then: Industrious, peaceful, unique and admired. Above all else it was cohered, right down to the smallest village.

Steve

Thud said...

For what its worth I rarely agree with much here but you have hit the nail on the head in this instance.

mikef said...

It's a bit shallow to blame Fatcha! I think it is a combination of good intentions and ideology - the notion that the mentally ill should be encouraged to live in society rather than shut away in an institution. Saving money might have been an added attraction but was not the main driver. Politicians are actually very limited in what they can do especially in areas like health.