Survivors History archive
Mental Health Media 22.11.2000 Press Release about the Testimonies Project
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Survivors Add New Voices to Dark Chapter in Medical History
22nd November 2000
If you were removed from society, force-fed drugs, locked up without trial for committing no crime; where would you be? In a war zone or under a dictatorship perhaps? The answer is startling: England, at least up until very recently.
A groundbreaking collection of video interviews that gives voice to the silent survivors of Britain's now defunct psychiatric institutions, the 'Mental Health Testimony Archive' will be launched by The British Library in partnership with Mental Health Media on November 28th. Over the past two years fifty people were recorded by trained interviewers, themselves also former mental health service users.
Government policy has shifted from institutionalisation towards community based care and many of the old hospitals have now disappeared. To ensure that this disturbing period in mental health care is not forgotten, former patients were invited to talk about their often-harrowing stories for preservation in The British Library's National Sound Archive, which is one of the world's largest oral history collections.
The resulting 'Mental Health Testimony Archive' is a chilling document of what can happen when a portion of society is stigmatised and separated from mainstream life. The Archive will provide an invaluable resource for all those researching or involved in this area of care, detailing from the point of view of the patients, the impact of the buildings, people and practices that controlled their lives.
First erected in Victorian times to look after the 'welfare' of those deemed to be a danger to themselves or society, psychiatric institutions were homes to many thousands of people labelled with arcane medical diagnoses such as 'mental defective' and 'imbecile'. Of those interviewed many were diagnosed as mentally ill for behaviour that would be viewed differently by today's standards: Teenage rebellion, pregnancy outside of wedlock, illegitimacy, were anathema to the strict societal codes of the day and invited harsh retribution.
Rob Perks, Curator of Oral History at the Library commented: "This unique series of interviews will be an important addition to the National Sound Archive's oral history collection. The interviews provide some remarkable insights into the way in which, within living memory, our society has responded to mental health. What has startled us most was the brutality and crudeness of some of the so-called treatments."
For further information contact Dan Beety at The British Library Press Office on 020 74127110 or email email@example.com
Notes to the editor
The launch takes place at 2.30 Tuesday 28th November 2000, at the British Library Conference Centre.
Mental Health Media is a voluntary organisation, which promotes understanding of mental health through the voices of people who have experienced mental distress. Mental Health Media uses video and new media productions and media skills training to increase the quantity and quality of information about mental health available to the public. The 'Testimony Archive' documents the treatment of those with psychiatric diagnoses and is hoped to provide a precedent for the inclusion of these people's voices in the discussion of mental health services. For further information email firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel 020 7700 8171. Included with the release, please find sample summaries from the Testimony Archive.
A few facts about mental illness:
Over one in four people will experience emotional and mental distress in a year.
One in ten will be diagnosed by a GP as having a recognisable psychiatric condition.
There are a quarter of a million admissions to psychiatric hospital each year.
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation. It includes: books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Key users of the Library's collections and services other than business include academics, independent researchers and people working in the library and information science sector. Further information is available on the Library's website at www.bl.uk
Import quality video footage, Beta SP format, from the Archive is available upon request. Some contributors to the project can be contacted for interview via Beate Kubitz at Mental Health Media.
The British Library National Sound Archive (NSA) is one of the largest sound archives in the world. Opened in 1955 as the British Institute of Recorded Sound, it became a department of the British Library in 1983 and now holds historic wax cylinders, around a million discs, 160,000 tapes, and a growing number of videos. The collections come from all over the world and cover the entire range of recorded sound: from pop to politics, bebop to birdsong, opera to oral history. They include published and unpublished recordings from the late nineteenth century to the present day, including a wide variety of BBC broadcasts. The NSA's catalogue is available on the Web at cadensa.bl.uk
The NSA's oral history collection is one the largest in the world, with some 300 collections of audio and video taped interviews including the Millennium Memory Bank of 6000 recordings from all over the UK. As the national centre for oral history in Britain, the section provides advice and training in oral history methods, and maintains close contact with oral history groups in Britain and abroad.
Public access to the Testimony Archive will be available through the usual British Library process.
LIFE STORY INTERVIEW 1
Joan is was born in 1928 and was fostered at the age of four. Joan was first admitted to St John's Hospital in Aylesbury for agoraphobia in her 20s shortly after leaving the Army. She spent the next 33 years in hospital - St John's, Broadmoor, Hellingly and Severalls. Joan's mother and father fought for nine years to get Joan out of Broadmoor. Joan says that she should never have been there and is proud of the fact that, whilst in Broadmoor, she saved a nurse's life. Joan has lived in her own home for some years now. Sadly, her mother died three months before she came out of hospital.
"I was really shocked when I woke up and I was like on a canvas, rubber mattress, two rubber pillows, and a canvas night dress, and two canvas rugs, and very cold because you can't wrap yourself warm in them and when I shouted out `Where am I?', and the Sister came and she said, `You're in Broadmoor'"
"There used to be two dormitories, and they were both housed thirty patients in each and they was so close together, the beds, you used to have one patient up.. one down, one up, reverse so you wouldnt be breathing into one anothers faces during the night."
"Only once I was put in the padded cell at the hospital [St John's]. It was awful being in the padded cell because everything's padded, all the floors, the door was padded, so nobody could hear you, so if you suffer from agoraphobia then it used to be terrible, what I mean 'cause you knew, you couldn't knock anywhere because they couldn't hear you. They had a little spy hole on the door, which they would look in to see if you was all right now and again."
"And I had six lots of six weeks of sleep treatment. They put you to sleep, for six weeks, they give you sleeping tablets every four hours, and you wasn't able to drink or anything, or eat, and they they would give you Complan and they'd give you a bed bath and changed all your clothes all your clothes and that, and changed the bedding and make you sleep again, so for six weeks I knew nothing.
"But when you when you're coming off of sleep treatment, they cut down the tablets and you get a withdrawal fit they're terrible, you know they give you a fit. Cause I shouted out one day, I thought I feel funny, you know what I mean, and I shouted out, and they said, `You've had a very bad fit'. I said `Can I get up for a cigarette?'. They said `No'."
"..in Broadmoor.. they called `gallery' at twenty five past seven, you had to go to bed at twenty five past seven but what you'd do you would have your medicine, but one girl would keep a cigarette alight cause they the staff thought they were all out, and she would go in the toilet, so each time, when you had your medicine, you'd go in the toilet, say `I'm just going to the toilet before I go to bed', and we was all having a puff in there. If sometimes the girls didn't want their sleeping tablets, they would pass them all along to somebody at the back.. if you didn't have it you know, they'd make out they'd taken it and then, pass it on to another patient they knew."
"When you was alright they'd give you ordinary bedding back, but on Lancaster House you're not allowed any furniture, in the rooms no furniture at all no chairs, no dressing tables, nothing you had to undress out in the corridor, and put your nightdress in on and then go into your room, just like that."
INTERVIEWER: So you had to undress in the corridor?
"Uh huh yeah undress in the corridor in front of everybody else [laughs], and you had five male nurses on there...And the men used to give you a bath oh, that was more embarrassing than ever you had to go and have a bath with them."
"When I come to look upon it and sometimes they've said to me here, `Life's been very unfair to you, I said, `Through my childhood, thirty three and a half years in hospital, come out in the community, get breast cancer. I don't think I could have any more bad luck than what I've had."
"But so I say when I wake up in the morning, sometimes I feel like a good cry because.. I know what kind of a day I've got to have, know what I mean."
Care in the community
"One day they there was a meeting with the members of the public, when we was at Hellingly and they came up to Hellingly and they knew that they was going to close down Hellingly so one man was going on and on and on `They'll be calling it our house, he said, `..be in that garden, and all of a sudden I stood up and I said, `You all make me bloody sick, I said, `Its not the patients that are doing all these sex offences and murders out in the community, its the new people that are doing it, people out in the community, not patients that are doing it, and they all looked around at me and well everybody stopped saying it. I was so fed up with hearing them running us down, saying what we what we would be like. That we would be going round the houses, knocking on their doors, no such thing."
"I think now that I'm out in the community, I do what I want I go where I want and not what other people want. I don't have anybody telling me what to do and what not to do. I don't take no orders from nobody, and I've made that clear that you know, nobody tells me what to do."
LIFE STORY INTERVIEW 2
George, aged 41, is of West Indian origin and was born in London. His parents are from Grenada and have since moved back to the Caribbean. He was one of five children. George's first contact with services was in his late teens when, on remand at Brixton prison, he was given a psychiatric diagnosis and transferred to Shenley Hospital where he stayed for about six years. Shenley Hospital closed on 28 February 1998.
"They were giving me medication saying that was meant to help my health, and make me think more clearly but what it really did was put me in pain, causing me to scream really, outrageous, knowing that I couldn't stop myself. Then once the doctor in prison would say `Oh, youre mad, they get a second doctor to come and see you, to back him up and then they both say that you're against them, the next thing you know you're locked in in Shenley."
"Because what happened is that I'm brought into hospital where where I'm thinking `Ooh, this is strange I hope I go home soon, but what you find is that you're here for like six months you're fed medication. You are thinking to yourself it's meant to be helping you but then you find you're pacing up and down in corridors, youre feeling some funny sensations in the skin, and you say how can it work?"
"No one told me what they were giving me. All they said was that, `These drugs are here to help you'. What I found that is always the drugs was there to make you totally sick. Make you crazy out your head, you know and then they say `It's your responsibility' but how can it be if you're taking something that you know you didnt agree to. They say `You've got to take it, and you take it and you find that youre youre thinking is very strange, you know, one minute youre thinking, `Oh, I'm longing to leave this place, the next minute you're thinking `Oh, who's that crazy guy in there?' Or 'what's this crazy thought I'm having in my head?'"
"I've been held down by the by the by the nurses, for about four times [they] forced the medication. I've been threatened by nurses. If I refuse the medication, they will force it down my throat, and they did."
"Well it affected me a lot because Im a very talkative person sometimes, and I used to talk to the nurses, and thought you know, they were my friend as we used to get on, but then as soon as I say, `Oh, I'm not taking my medication, youre making me too fat, I don't like the idea of what youre doing to me, then their attitude changed. They kind of draw away from you the next thing twelve people are on you and you're on the floor."
"I think its getting worse, because Im seeing more young men come here and you know, they look like one minute they're looking like themselves, then the next time we see them they look like a zombie, and you think to yourself, `What are they doing to that guy?, you know. He's one minute he was alright, and then the next minute he doesn't say anything to you he just walks up the road goes to the shop, comes back, but you can see in him, he was like a zombie hes like a like his soul has been like that, you know. I don't like the idea of it, I would like to as a black man, I would like to see black people step forward, not backwards."