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Inspired: chemical cure, chemical cosh

Sometimes provocative and always interesting, this series of shorter stories can be inspired by pretty much anything in Wellcome Collection and offers a quick insight into some of the themes we explore. This one comes from Rock Webb.

Bedlam: the asylum and beyond‘ has recently closed. Our exhibition tracing the rise and fall of the asylum contained an array of inspirational objects: JJ Beegan’s toilet roll sketches from the Adamson Collection; a Hogarth engraving; original scrolls of mental health related acts of law; and a number of references to the unique family care system in Geel, Belgium.

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Thorazine advert as shown in ‘Bedlam: the asylum and beyond’.

However, I was drawn to this 1950s advert of a patient both before (montone photo of cuffed man on the left) and after medication (colour image, peacefully at home on the right). I’m intrigued by the claims and somewhat disturbed by the imagery; I want to find out more.

Chemicals have been used in the relief of mental illness since the early post-medieval period. The 1950s, though, was the breakthrough decade for psychiatric drugs, in particular chlorpromazine which was followed by a whole suite of pharmaceutical treatments, such as lithium, thioridazine and paraldehyde. Many of these drugs had been developed for other medical uses, but were found to have a powerful sedative effect. Subsequently, use in asylums and mental hospitals became widespread.

Prolonged use became common and many patients were required to have daily medication. This was usually in syrup form, but also by injection (especially when an immediate sedation effect, or ‘cosh’, was required). Systematically treating people with behaviour-altering drugs also affected their personalities to the point of malleable compliance. While patients were no longer physically shackled or cuffed, they were restrained nonetheless, albeit chemically.

Advertisements for anti-psychotic drugs also failed to mention side effects. Patients under a chemical cosh could develop a sluggish drag when they walked, or near-constant dribbling from the mouth. Others suffered from locked joints or blurred vision. Hypersensitivity to sunlight was another by-product of continual and repetitive use, so much so that some users found it rather problematic to go outside.

It would be wrong to suggest that the use of such medication is wholly negative. Doctors and patients report successful relief from some of the pain associated with mental illness. Drugs can help prevent physical harm to sufferers and carers, and sleep is now a distinct reality for many who had previously struggled with it. Perhaps the most powerful argument is that many people can be free from institutionalisation; medication makes living at home a possibility.

So, should these drugs be consigned to history along with other so-called modern innovations, such as insulin comas, ice baths, electroshock treatment and lobotomies? Or should they be hailed as a liberator? Chemical cure or just chemical cosh?

Rock is a Visitor Experience Assistant.

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A drop in the ocean: Daniel Regan

‘Bedlam: the asylum and beyond’ interrogates the original ideal that the asylum represented – a place of refuge, sanctuary and care – and asks whether and how it could be reclaimed. This blog series intends to showcase as many different voices and perspectives from people with lived experience of mental ill health and explore their ideas of personal asylum.

This post is from Daniel Regan, a photographer who showed work in Bethlem Gallery’s ‘Reclaiming Asylum’ exhibition late last year.

I began feeling that something wasn’t quite right in my early teens. Looking back on it now I remember thinking that my thoughts seemed jumbled, tangled and different from my peers. My emotional experiences were felt so deeply; my responses were not the same as those around me at that age. As I got further into my teens, I withdrew into myself and began to self-harm. I could never quite figure out how to make sense of the chaos in my mind, but then I discovered photography, which helped me begin to express the brief moments of clarity. Continue reading

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How cultural contexts can shape mental illness

‘Bedlam: the asylum and beyond’ is now in its final weeks, closing on 15 January. The exhibition traces the rise and fall of the mental asylum and how it has shaped the complex landscape of mental health today. For this post we adjust our focus as Sarah Jellenc takes a more global view of mental health. 

As a student of literature, I’ve spent a lot of time studying cultural narratives – the stories we tell ourselves in order to make sense of our reality. Browsing through the Hearing Voices Café newspapers at Wellcome Collection’s ‘Bedlam’ exhibition the other day got me thinking: what bearing might cultural narratives surrounding mental illness have on an individual’s expression and experience of psychopathology? Continue reading

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A drop in the ocean: Sarah Carpenter

‘Bedlam: the asylum and beyond’ interrogates the original ideal that the asylum represented – a place of refuge, sanctuary and care – and asks whether and how it could be reclaimed. This blog series intends to showcase as many different voices and perspectives from people with lived experience of mental ill health and explore their ideas of personal asylum.

This post is from Sarah Carpenter, an artist who showed work in Bethlem Gallery’s ‘Reclaiming Asylum’ exhibition earlier this year.

 

‘Torn’ from my ‘Emerging’ series.

‘Torn’ from my ‘Emerging’ series.

Having suffered for many years with depression, anxiety and eating disorders, I have found refuge in my art and cannot begin to explain how much it means to me to be able to produce my work.

Having spent a long time with so many things on my mind, my recovery has cleared space in my mind and life for more creativity. I now use art to proactively utilise my energy and in turn keep up the momentum of my recovery. It allows “me time” to do something that I enjoy and am passionate about as a way of self-soothing.

Through therapy from my eating disorder I began to realise how little I recognised and dealt with my emotions. My artwork has allowed me to really engage instead. On a very basic level, producing my work gives me a positive outlet for my frustrations, emotions and problems. I’m able to escape as I “switch off” and focus on the process of making the work. This process allows time to pass and emotions to calm, meaning I can deal with things from a much calmer place.

A strong aspect of my problem is an innate need to challenge myself and do better. Making my work helps me realise the interpretive nature of art and keeping this in sight allows me to be more positive and reward myself again. My illness can make me feel the need to gain control. Producing my work allows me to channel this in a much more constructive and positive manner.

I feel lucky to be able to communicate through my work. In my experience, the arts are a great facilitator for opening up lines of communication.

'Wallpaper' from my 'Emerging' series.

‘Wallpaper’ from my ‘Emerging’ series.

In the past, my artwork has not only facilitated non-verbal communication, it has given me the confidence to talk about my mental health. This all helped towards reducing stigma surrounding eating disorders which made asking for help initially so difficult for me.

I hope that through making my artwork, people who have similar experiences may take comfort in this kind of sharing, that it may help the battle to break down stigmas.

The work

Process to me is just as important as the final outcome. My piece, The Small Things (below), lets an audience in on my deeply personal daily practice of finding sanctuary through repetition.

I work predominantly as a graphic designer and digital photographer, therefore I wanted to share how a return to materials and hand craft can be used as a way to unwind and disconnect from our otherwise predominantly digital life. There is something very comforting about a return to traditional and simple roots. Using textile and fabric is a very satisfying practice for me as it adds another layer in the form of a multi-sensory and tactile experience.

The mark making itself is a process that creates rhythm and movement, which is a comfort to me as my background is in dance. This repetition can also lead me into a more mindful state.

Sanctuary & asylum

I recognise sanctuary and asylum as states of mind, emotions and feelings, as opposed to a physical place. It is an attitude and it is a lifestyle. We can find it within ourselves, but only if given the space, time and tools to do so.

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From my ‘Antique Postcard’ series.

There is a lot of focus on the type of spaces that should be provided in order for people to find sanctuary and asylum, but I feel that the most important facilitation starts with society’s attitude towards the ideas of “asylum” and “sanctuary”. These words have negative connotations and, as a society, we actually seem to frown upon the notion of asylum. People who seek help and support are seen as weak; not resilient or strong.

Some of the strongest people that I have met have been the ones who fight internal battles, become in touch with their own emotions and try to become better people by reconnecting and challenging their own thoughts; the people who seek sanctuary.

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‘Global Connectivity’, mixed media.

Allowing yourself the time and space, finding sanctuary and changing your thoughts and behaviours is not easy. As a society, we need to facilitate this, rethink the lifestyles that we have created where we ignore our own needs, show no self-compassion, do not give importance to taking time for ourselves and finding sanctuary and where actively seeking asylum is so very difficult to do.

Sarah is an artist, photographer and designer with a strong interest in combining traditional craft with digital practices. Follow Sarah on Twitter and Instagram.

Bedlam: the asylum and beyond‘ is on until 15 January 2017.

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A drop in the ocean: Suzanne Morris

‘Bedlam: the asylum and beyond’ interrogates the original ideal that the asylum represented – a place of refuge, sanctuary and care – and asks whether and how it could be reclaimed. This blog series intends to showcase as many different voices and perspectives from people with lived experience of mental ill health and explore their ideas of personal asylum.

This post is from Suzanne Morris, a writer involved in Core Arts.

Hi, my name is Suzanne and I am someone who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder, anxiety and other delightful things. I am in therapy at the moment pretending to be “normal”. I also go to Core Arts.

I was diagnosed with clinical depression back in the eighties after a break down. I did a stint at the Junction at Homerton Hospital when it was part of the old Hackney Hospital; afterwards I was put on a waiting list to have psychotherapy. There was a terrible lack of therapists and, sadly, you just had to wait your turn. This often meant you waited years! Continue reading

Sick City: Mental health

 

Mental health. Wellcome Images

Mental health. Wellcome Images

 

Tonight, Wellcome Collection presents Sick City, a balloon debate in which the audience decides public health priorities for London. Four speakers each propose a problem which they think demands our resources and attention. This week on the Wellcome Collection blog, we present a brief introduction to each speaker’s priority. Join the debate using the comments below, or come to the event to help make the decision.

Paul Farmer will put the case for mental health as London’s most urgent health challenge.

Quite simply, mental health is the greatest public health issue facing London, yet it is one of the most ignored.

The facts are clear:

  • One in four Londoners experience mental health problems;
  • The World Health Organisation identifies depression as a growing mental health issue, becoming the biggest issue by 2020;
  • 90% of people who have a mental health problem experience stigma and discrimination as a result;
  • The recession has had a major impact on our mental health, with a steep increase in the prescription of antidepressants.

We need to act on this quickly. It does not have to be like this.

What can we do:

  • Public education campaigns to tackle stigma and discrimination are already having an impact, but more needs to be done;
  • We can and should treat our mental health in the same way as we treat our physical health – with preventative approaches;
  • Timely access to effective services, such as talking treatments, provides effective help and further destigmatises mental issues.

Paul Farmer has been Chief Executive of Mind, the leading mental health charity working in England and Wales since May 2006. He was a co-author of Realising Ambitions, an independent review for the Department for Work and Pensions  (DWP). He is a member of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) Programme Board, Care Quality Commission (CQC) Mental Health Board and Chair of the Disability Charities Consortium. He is also a member of the Centre for Social Justice Mental Health Inquiry.Before becoming Chief Executive of Mind, Paul was Director of Public Affairs for Rethink and was Chair of the Mental Health Alliance from 2001-06.