Mental Health on Record


[Music] this document dates from 1916 and tells the story of Joanna Anderson who was a nurse at the front during first world war her story like so many others about those faced with mental health issues in the 19th and early 20th centuries did not end well [Music] prior to the 19th century there was no clear definition or understanding of what mental illness was this resulted in those who suffered from disorders being treated in cruel inhumane ways due to the belief that their behavior was their fault [Music] care for those with mental health problems was either through the poor law system which resulted in people ending up in work houses or vagrancy laws which made it a crime for a person to wander from place to place without visible means of support it effectively criminalized being homeless the Victorian era saw the establishment of asylums asylums followed the County Asylum Act of 1808 which required each county to construct places to house the mentally ill this was followed by the Lunacy Act of 1845 this formed mental health laws in England and Wales and helped the treatment of patients within asylums be monitored [Music] new legislation altered the way in which mental illness was treated and there was a growing recognition that the behavior of the mentally ill wasn’t their fault [Music] to be poor and suffering from mental ill-health in Victorian Britain should mean that the state would take care of you usually in an asylum in practice however it was easy for people to fall below the radar one such individual was Elizabeth Noble after losing a husband Elizabeth was struggling to care for a seven-year-old son Harry on the meager wage from a needle worker [Music] she began self-medicating spending her living on alcohol instead of sustenance for herself and her son soon after Elizabeth began losing touch with reality reportedly becoming convinced that little Harry wanted to join his father in heaven her mental health declined over a few months despite the efforts of neighbors to ensure the child was fed the child became too ill to survive Elizabeth was arrested for manslaughter and sentenced to five years penal servitude if a young person exhibited mental-health problems they were not given any special provision often they were packed off to the poorhouse or an asylum the same way as an adult for the working class as well as the middle and upper-class families an important consideration was out of sight and out of mind such was the case with Bernard Rickman records about Bernard Rickman first appear when he was 17 years old The Apprentice of a chemist in Lewes Sussex his master admitted him to Brislington House in Bristol in 1851 as Bernard was being very violent so was deemed dangerous to himself as well as others he seemed to be laboring under mania and was having religious delusions it should be noted that Rickman was part of the Society of Friends so his religious beliefs were of utmost importance to him so much so that he asserted that he was acting under a divine commission in the destruction he practiced Bernard was classed as insane this was not the only instance that Bernard had ill health though it seemed to follow him throughout his life in total he was admitted to an asylum or hospital seven times five of these times were before the age of 24 the final record of Barnard being admitted due to his mental health was in December 1882 Bernard was age 47 a married man now this time a merchant by the name of John Clay Lucas admitted him to the doctor’s at the retreat in York as he was the trustee under Rickman’s mother’s will Rickman was described as a person of unsound mind who was in a condition of mania by two surgeons who had performed home visits this medical certificate shows the observations from one surgeon restless and excited in manner he considers the letter s should be expunged from the alphabet as it is full of abominations and the shape of the serpent he lighted a piece of newspaper and having blown out the flame asked me to smell it for as he alleged it smelled of blood from the murders which are published in the papers Rickman had also damaged property this time with his landlady saying he had set fire to the mats in the night to purify the house from blood Rickman was released less than a year later as he had supposedly recovered soon after a key piece of legislation came into place the Lunacy Act of 1890 [Music] [Music] the term dementia was used very loosely in the 18th and 19th centuries at that time it was defined as a state of intellectual deficit and could be applied to people of any given age even young adults files kept on Sarah Musson help us see how she is caught between various mechanisms designed to help give provision for the mentally ill the letter sets the scene of Miss Musson who suffered from what was known as senile imbecility under the care of Miss Gastor and her niece who had both contributed weekly sums for her maintenance for years for reasons not mentioned in the letter Sarah’s niece left and ceased contribution to her maintenance leaving Miss Gastor to care for Sarah on her own this would have not only been a financial burden on Miss Gastor but would have made an already confused Sarah feel more isolated suffering from senile imbecility meant that Sarah was deemed not well enough to retrieve one hundred pounds saved in her bank despite being unable to access this money she was not classed a pauper meaning she did not qualify for local assistance on top of this being a senile imbecile meant that she was not classed a lunatic and therefore was not covered by the 1890 Lunacy Act despite being unwell the fact that her circumstance was not addressed in the law meant that her local authority was not obliged to help and so they didn’t Sarah most likely had what we would now call dementia being denied proper help whilst being stuck in a gray area between institutions designed to help those who needed it would have made people like Sarah feel excluded and alone in time they needed help the most John Mckenzie’s story originates from the Admiralty files his name appears on the sick list full of patients suffering from physical injuries however what is labeled as John’s illness is in fact a mental health issue but for the physicians in 1876 it was titled disease of the brain it was on record that his shipmates on the factory ship volcano had reported him for continually forgetting places on board including his own quarters and he was unable to perform to the best of his abilities his wife also corroborated how forgetful he was Victorian physicians severely lacked an understanding of dementia and how to support those who suffered from it the solution to John’s situation was to send him to Haslar hospital in Portsmouth a military hospital with an insane asylum attached he was placed under observation and treatment we do not know anymore about him from the records [Music] societies often use laws and provisions of mental health to control or inhibit people who were deemed to be disruptive or different this can be seen in the case of suffragettes and their battle for the right to vote since their behavior was often considered to be that of deranged women a particular example of this treatment can be seen in the case of Olive Wharry an artist who joined the suffragette movement in 1910 [Music] on the early morning of the 20th of February Olive Wharry and her accomplice Lillian Lenton were arrested and later charged with arson following their attack Olive refused to pay the cost of the damage which led to a sentence of 18 months in prison during her time in prisons Wharry was fingerprinted against her will and was force-fed when she refused to eat daily reports of her time in prison are plastered with language labeling her as words such as insolent eccentric destructive unpleasant and hysterical on the eight of April 1914 Olive was released after partaking in the hunger strike for 32 days but she had lost a huge amount of weight she continued to campaign for the movement until the first world war broke out [Music] [Music] by the end of the 19th century there had been some improvements made in the attitude towards and treatment of individuals with mental health problems however with the arrival of the Great War in 1914 the full extent of the current system inadequacies were made evident especially as doctors struggled to recognize and deal with a new condition shell-shock was a form of trauma often triggered by soldier’s horrific experiences of fighting in the First World War this condition could result in a range of different symptoms including deafness uncontrollable shaking depression and hallucinations however as the victims of shell shock usually had no physical wounds the complex psychological nature of the disorder was frequently misunderstood and shell-shock was instead seen as a sign of emotional weakness or cowardice treatments for shell-shock could be incredibly harsh such as electric shock therapy or solitary confinement Siegfried Sassoon the war poet was himself affected by shell shock although he was much more fortunate in the care provided for him sent to Craiglockhart military hospital Sassoon was offered rest and therapy giving him time to examine and reflect on the psychological as well as physical violence of the war his poems were famous for their grim realism and help to spread the truth about the harsh realities of the fighting which fuelled the anti-war movement however in 1917 after writing and showing his own denunciation of the war effort the government used Sassoon’s fragile mental health to invalidate and isolate his public platform in an act of desperation and protest Sassoon then threw the ribbon of his Military Cross awarded to him for the bravery he showed at the frontlines into a nearby river before eventually returning to the trenches and the war he so hated [Music] women’s mental health was also hugely affected by war as records of Joanna Anderson show Joanna was part of the voluntary aid detachment or VAD her job was to help nurses and doctors with their work one of her main roles was to write condolence letters to the families of those who died she tried to include as many personal details as she could remember one day after year a of caring for the wounded and dying Joanna woke feeling too depressed to leave her bed she suffered from insomnia felt overwhelmingly anxious and began to have hallucinations it was decided that Joanna would be transported to a private mental asylum back in London Camberwell House her story doesn’t stop there because we have another file for Joanna after the war she was given a substantial pension allowing two nurses to care for her for the rest of her life both in and out of the asylum until her death in 1937 the first sign of Alice’s struggle with mental illness was in the winter of 1915 where she suffered joint pains fatigue and anxiety however this was dismissed as the war advanced she was stationed at a field hospital in France where she served from 1915 to 1916 here she earned a scarlett efficiency stripe the horror she witnessed in France on the Western Front continued to damage her mental health and in 1917 she officially resigned it was then that Alice began to experience the effects of the First World War her medical records highlight how she experienced insomnia flashbacks screaming fits hysteria joint pains dizziness headaches and temperatures of a hundred and one while today we would cost these the symptoms of PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder Alice was simply labeled as neurasthenic this derives from the Greek neurasthenia which means weak nerves it was originally recorded that her illness was attributable to military service however this was later changed to not and Alice constantly fought to get medical recognition of her illness she was admitted to an asylum in September 1922 and was officially diagnosed with neuresthenia she could no longer work and so applied for a disability claim from the Ministry of Pensions but her application was refused because the board refused to accept that she had a disorder and therefore they ignored her case she continued to apply from 1922 right until late 1923 meanwhile continuing to stay in the asylum in one of her numerous letters to the pension office she argued you must think I’m a fool I have been here for nine months now but her case was repeatedly dismissed this was unfortunately common from the Victorian era right up to the late 1900s countless laws and acts have been passed to improve the care for those suffering with mental illness and this is to ensure that cases like Alice’s don’t occur even when the war was officially over in 1918 its impact continued to be felt throughout the country for many decades to come but not just by those who has faught on the front line but often by their families too Sarah Petty was the wife of James Petty a drunkard with a history of violence towards her between them they had two children two year old Arthur and eight-month-old Winfred one evening after James had been rowing with Sarah again Sarah felt struck with the urge to kill herself she blocked off the back room and turned on the cooker the two children were with her the room filled with fatal coal gas Sarah was discovered that night unconscious Winfred had survived the ordeal but Arthur had succumbed to the gas the suicide note was discovered in the room on it Sarah had written I can’t live any longer like this and if they should bring it in that I am insane tell them it is Jim that is insane and not me she ended the note with I don’t think I have ever done anyone much harm but the God pays debts without money Sarah Petty was imprisoned and charged with murder attempted murder and attempted suicide it is believed that she suffered from postnatal depression [Music] [Music] mental illness is surprisingly common many people suffer in silence to help stop this you can do simple things to help yourself breathing imagine a spaceship orbiting a planet and breathe with it one orbit is one breath in or out grounding focus on the senses find five things to see four to touch three to hear two to smell and one to taste going outside get out the house and do something even just a walk [Music] get communicating communicate with those around you open up and also listen this will help make both of you happier and healthier get learning learning can help you and others and is a constructive use of the mind breathing grounding going outside get communicating get learning in the 19th and early 20th centuries the services offered to people in need of mental health support were just starting to be developed in comparison today’s mental health provision whilst not perfect is so much better than that experienced by Elizabeth Noble Bernard Rickman Sarah Musson John Mckenzie olive Wharry Siegfried Sassoon Joanna Anderson Alice Dixie Sarah Petty if you or someone you know is experiencing mental health difficulties do not be afraid to ask for help [Music] [Music] [Music]

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