This fascinating documentary – part of a BBC season on the subject – looks at Britain’s history of mental health care. From frontal lobotomies to care in the community, Mental: A History of the Madhouse tells the story of the closure of Britain’s mental asylums. They’re a grizzly reminder of a time when ‘out of sight, out of mind’ was the mantra for tackling the nation’s mental health issues. But as part of its season on mental health, the BBC has revisited Britain’s asylums to look at how we used to treat the issues that face up to one in four people.
In the post-war period, 150,000 people were hidden away in these vast Victorian institutions. Institutions like High Royds Hospital, near Leeds, which forms the basis of this programme. High Royds with its Gothic clock tower and endless corridors, looks like the stuff of nightmares, built to keep out of sight those deemed to be out of their minds. But mental health care in the UK has changed, and today the asylums have all but disappeared as attitudes towards these issues have softened. Built around testimonies from patients, doctors and psychiatric nurses, the film explores the seismic shift in mental health care over the last sixty years.
Mental: A History of the Madhouse tackles some heavyweight subject matter and is anything but light evening viewing. However, it does an admirable service to the issues at hand and offers an insightful exploration of a subject that is all too often ignored.