Dave's Progress. Chapter 21: Asylum Seekers.

In the bad old days of mental ill health, psychiatric hospitals or wards used to be called "asylums". According to the OED "asylum" means "1. sanctuary; protection, esp. for fugitives from the law. 2. hist. institution for the mentally ill or destitute." And, indeed, when asylums were first set up, I believe in the seventeenth century, they were not only for those regarded as mentally ill, but also the poor, the indigent, the workless and destitute. What I want to know is, has that much really changed since the inception of the asylum all those years ago?
Due to new ways of thinking about madness in the seventeeenth century, many more people would find themselves confined as a result of suffering from some form of mental distress. Before this, according to Michel Foucault in his book "Madness and Civilisation", the mentally ill were allowed to roam free. There are many examples of this in literature. For example, the clown or fool in Shakespeare, who often, inadvertently, speaks the truth.
But let me get back to my original point, and that is, has that much really changed since the inception of the asylums all those years ago? As a friend of mine reminded me, who has a PHD in history, so he knows whereof he speaks, that if there was a time in history to be mentally ill then now would be the time, because we are much better off in these relatively enlightened times than we would have ever been in the past. I certainly take his point, but why then, in the West, are we so seemingly chronically unhappy? Why then, are the mentally ill still mostly poor, economically unproductive and much more likely to commit suicide than their apparently well counterparts?
The answer perhaps lies in the stigma which surrounds mental ill health. Through my voluntary work I get to see some of the outlandish attitudes that are out there concerning mental ill health and I can only say that I am becoming heartily sick of them. There seems to be absolutely no reason for people to behave in the manner that they sometimes do, but the feelings and attitudes of discrimination remain. Now, millions of pounds are being spent and lots of people's time is being taken up to combat these views, but why should we even have to do it. Surely people recognise that those who have suffered from any form of mental distress are still people. We have feelings. We are not immune to criticism. Why should it be that we are over-looked, delegated to lives of unproductivity and boredom?
But I still wonder whether the old asylums are really that different to the mental health hospitals of today in terms of the demographic they take into their doors. I know from personal experience that at least some of the people who go there are illiterate and poor. So what is happening here? Is it that hospitals are much the same as their seventeenth century counterparts, taking in those who have nowhere else to go, or is it the other way round and that illiteracy and poverty actually leads to mental health problems. Either way, something is wrong with our so-called enlightened age. And all of this would seem to do nothing for the reputation of those affected by mental ill health. There is, indeed, a common stereotype that the mentally ill are somehow below par in intelligence and can't cope, often confusing them with those who have learning disabilities, when in actual fact it is recognised that those who suffer are often of above average intelligence. I only have to point to my PHD friend at the Pathways group to show this.
Anyway, I hope that the days of the old asylums are truly gone, but it is surely true that some of the old attitudes about mental ill health remain. We can only hope and trust that some bright government spark will come up with some truly radical ideas of how to combat this.
In the meantime I will leave you with a thought about all of this which I read somewhere- that is, if a man can't find love, at least give him hope. If he can't find hope, at least give him something to do.
That's all for now from your normal, average, paranoid and delusional man.


dcrelief said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
klahanie said…
Hi David.
Your blog raises some interesting issues. I agree very strongly with the points you have made.
The unfair stigma, the labelling, the stereotyping of people with mental health issues persists: hopefully not a bad as it was though.
I have alluded to attitudes that I have encountered in mental health wards and the shocking, disrespectful approach by some of the staff.
Sadly, I have also encountered a less than empathetic attitude by certain mental health charities. It is shameful to witness those who 'talk the talk' but don't 'walk the walk'.
Thank you for 'Chapter 21', David.
Yours in empathy, Gary.
dcrelief said…
Hi David,
Sorry to be messy with the earlier deletion. I got wound up because, in my country, I see the school systems aiding in the destruction of children's minds. My sadness turns to anger, then I have to fix me first before I return to fighting the cause.
I worked in the schools for four and a half years, in math and reading labs, paid for by the government. I saw 100's of children. In all of that time I met one child diagnosed ADHD. He definitely was. It was both painful and fascinating to watch him.
Two years after I left every other child was being diagnosed. Why? Seems the school found "an instant babysitter" in Ritalin. It has been devastating to watch. The hopelessness of parents when a school nurse dictates the child's problem and correction. No doctors ever dianosed them.
That's one small part of society, true. But that one small part is going to BE the government one day all over the world. Will they need to remain drugged?
I'm sorry. This comment is no less rant than the other for me.
David you do a great job with tons of research. It's a bit comforting that people like you and Gary take the cause to the max when you can.
Most sincerely, Dixie
David said…
Dear dc and Gary,
Thanks for your encouraging comments. Hopefully together people like us can stop the unfair, often devastating results of stigma.
As for the whole Ritalin thing, dc, I share your worries, even though things this side of the pond don't seem quite as bad. Unfortunately it is often the case that the medical profession, particularly as psychiatry has come to rely heavily on a bio-chemical model, simply throws pills at patients when other methods could be used and other causes (environmental or social)are negated.
I've heard recently that, in the States, even infants are being given diagnoses of things like bipolar. To give people of such a young age such a label and, furthermore, then to go on and medicate them, seems to my mind absolutely ridiculous. As I have stated in a previous blog, because of psychiatry's inherent unreliability, it often mistakes personality for pathology. It would appear to me that what could be simple growing pains is being "medicalised" into a form of disease. Even my own psychiatrist, who watched the same documentary in which this was reported, found it extremely worrying.
Anyway, I am ranting myself now, but, sadly, it still seems that someone has to!
Thanks once again for your support,
Yours with all the Best,
David said…
P.S. Dixie. Thought I had just better say that I was not saying that ADHD is not a "real" condition, rather that there are probably other ways of treating it than simply forcing medication onto people, particularly the young. Also, as you say, treating people in this way can sometimes seem that it is just a way of conveniently dealing with those whom society might otherwise find difficult. You refer yourself to the somewhat over-zealous approach of nursing staff who, with Ritolin, found themselves a convenient "baby-sitter".
Anyway, thought I had better just clarify as one can and does often get into trouble over these sorts of things. I would also refer you to my blog "Some Passing (paranoid?) Thoughts on Psychiatry" for a further explanation.
Yours with Empathy,

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