Claudia Hammond tells the story of mental health care in the UK from the 1950s to the present day and explores, with the help of listeners' testimonies, how treatment and understanding of mental illness has changed over the past 50 years.
When Enoch Powell launched his 1962 Hospital Plan he believed all the asylums would be closed by 1975. However, it was not until the 1980s that the closures really got under way, with thousands of former inmates beginning new lives in the community. For many this was a new beginning: with genuine care, life in the community was infinitely preferable to the total institutions from which they had emerged. But for those who lacked support and could not cope, homelessness and even prison were the alternative to what had been, for some, genuine asylum.
At the Surrey History Centre, where Woking Mind work with the archivists to examine the history of the local asylums, Claudia meets a former patient of Brookwood asylum for whom squatting in the derelict building was preferable to life in a community that didn't care. She also meets service users in Reigate who, frustrated by the lack of formal support, have set up their own, the Stepping Stones drop-in centre.