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State of Mind
Wednesday 2100-2130
About the series
Claudia Hammond charts the development of mental health care in the UK from the 1950s until today, to ask where we are now, and where we’re going. Will the stigma of mental illness ever be entirely removed?
Total Institution
Wednesday 7 January 2009
Listen to this programme in full
Claudia Hammond
The 1950s promised a new deal for the mentally ill. There were new drugs and radical new legislation. Psychiatrists believed they had the answers, yet seclusion in the Victorian asylums continued.
Surrey had more mental asylums than any other country in the UK. Claudia visits the Surrey History Centre to see archive of Brookwood Hospital which is being used with Woking Mind to promote memory-sharing among former patients and staff.

In any one year in the UK, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem. How we're treated depends on the current understanding and attitude to mental illness. All those who were asked, including many Radio 4 listeners who contributed their experiences as mental health service users or providers over the last half century, conceded that it’s better to have a mental health problem now than at any other point in that time. Yet there were reservations: Although the huge Victorian asylums could be cruel and impersonal, they did afford a retreat from a world that can be difficult to navigate at a time of mental crisis. Today, with acute beds scarce, you’re soon tipped back out to cope in the community as best you can when you suffer ‘an episode’.

On the other hand, drugs are much improved, with far fewer side effects, and the recognition that talking therapies can help (even if they’re hard to access) makes for an approach that’s more understanding.

In speaking to those who have experienced mental health care and those who have supplied it for over half a century, what struck the presenter, Claudia Hammond, time and again was that how we are helped depends on the current social and political emphasis as much as on the latest drug advances. Most importantly, whether we are understood or stigmatised will vary according to our culture and social framework.

Additional Information
Closing the Asylum: The Mental Patient in Modern Society by Peter Barham, Penguin Books Ltd; 2Rev Ed edition (30 Oct 1997) ISBN-10: 0140265805 ISBN-13: 978-0140265804

The Myth of the Chemical Cure by Joanna Moncrieff, Palgrave Macmillan; 1 edition (7 Dec 2007) ISBN-10: 0230574319 ISBN-13: 978-0230574311

Joanna Moncrieff

David Nutt

Alan Corkish

The Survivors' History Group

1959 Mental Healt Act

Impact of 1959 Mental Health Act and subsequent developments 

Surrey History Centre

Woking Mind
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