Mental illness

A woman receiving electroconvulsive therapy

The play highlights what many would now regard as the ill treatment of people with mental illness in the 1950s. Phil gives detailed description and expresses anger at his mother’s care;

quote
Abject bloody misery, it was. Dark-brown wax cloth you could see your face in… bathroom mirrors you couldn’t. Lights out at half seven… no wireless, no comics, no nothing.

We also see the stigma and ignorance attached to mental illness at the time. Phil is eager to keep his mother’s episode a secret, discussing it in confidence with Spanky only. Spanky denies any knowledge of the incident when questioned by Mr. Curry:

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Couldn’t’ve been Phil’s maw that broke the windows…must have been some other...loony

The fact that someone as supportive as Spanky goes on to refers to Phil's mother in this way shows how little understanding there was about mental illness at the time.

Phil explains that his mother will be incarcerated for six weeks:

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First week tied to a rubber mattress, next five wired to a generator.

This reference to the bleak conditions in the hospital and the use of electroconvulsive therapy highlights some of the many challenges faced by those with mental health issues.

Phil’s inability to control or cope with the situation shows that mental illness not only affects an individual, but those around them too. The harrowing impact of mental health is morosely evident when Phil asks Alan:

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What do you know about razor blades and public wards and row upon row of gumsy cadavers all sitting up watching you stumble in with your Lucozade and excuses?

The meaning of ‘mental illness’ is also brought into question as Phil struggles to face his own potential mental health issues, asking Spanky:

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D’you think going off your head’s catching?

Spanky informs Alan that we’re all nuts, kiddo and reference is made to the fact that Hector has attempted suicide in the past, indicating that mental illness is not just confined to Phil's family, but is a much wider social issue.

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