The History of Mental Health in the UK

In today’s day and age, many of us will suffer from mental health problems whether that be anxiety or depression and we can be guaranteed to meet with doctors who have clear understanding of our issues.

However, many years ago, those suffering from mental health problems have not always received the same level of care or even respect that we are used to today.

The term “mental health” was popularised in the 1900’s by physicians and former insane asylum patients. They wanted to reduce the stigma of mental illness as the term “illness” often resulted in prejudices against patients in asylums. It often resulted in those with mental health issues being segregated from those that were deemed well.

In 1948, the NHS found themselves responsible for at least 100 asylums that all had their own rules and treatments for their patients in their care.

The average asylum had populations in the thousands but it was not uncommon for some asylums such as Whittingham in Lancashire to have as many as 4,oo0 patients at a given time.

Those living in asylums often had to deal with cramped and dirty conditions where the treatment are considered barbaric for today’s standards. These treatments included electro-convulsive therapy and lobotomies. These treatments did work for some patients but they also painted a painful picture of a place where no one wanted to end up.

Sufferers would often be confined to padded cells and made to wear straitjackets and where manual labour was deemed as therapy but patients also got the chance to do some sports and get some fresh air. However, it did not take long for ministers to realise that a change was overdue.

In the early 1950’s, it was noted that around half of NHS beds were taken up by the “mentally deficient” and the spending money needed to care for them was getting too much. In West Yorkshire, it took over 35% of their total budget.

The large and infamous hospitals that many are familiar with today were built during the Victorian times and around this time of realisation, it was also made aware that many of the foundations for these buildings were crumbling and would cost far too much to repair.

A 1957 report from the Percy Commission (created in 1954 by the Conservative Government) called for mental health to be regarded in the same was as a physical illness.

By the mid to late 1950’s, hospitals had an open door policy and academics all over the UK were acknowledging that most people suffered with mental health issues to some degree at some point in their lives.

New and more effective drugs were also been created to keep up with the pace of positive change. Psychiatry were changing its punishing treatments for more positive ones.

Unfortunately, an inquiry was made in 1971 into Whittingham hospital which uncovered patient neglect and fraud. It was almost as if the positive changes that took place two decades earlier did not happen.

The 1983 Mental Health act was created and placed legal controls on certain treatments such as surgery and mood-altering drugs. Due to this act, people became more aware that those suffering from mental health problems were not doomed to a life of uncertainty but had the chance to recover and lead normal lives.

In 2000, a draft Mental Health Bill introduced compulsory treatment under community supervision. Those that had dangerous and severe personality disorders had been considered untreatable but were covered by proposals. It was not until 2007 that it became law.

Sadly, those with mental health issues today, especially young people, still get stigmatised. Luckily, charities and health acts are constantly being updated and continue to fight these unfair beliefs that often latch onto those who need help with their mental health and well-being.

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