Glasgow’s history of mental illness on show

With the treatment of psychiatric patients coming under increasing scrutiny, a major exhibition is attempting to give a historical view on attitudes to mental health. Stephen N aysrnith investigates.

With the closure of grim Victorian institutions and asylums, a major shift is taking place in the way society approaches the problem of mental illness. As attitudes to mental health are reconsidered, an exhibition at Glasgow’s Art Gallery and Museum, Kelvingrove invites the public to examine its own attitudes.

There are significant changes ahead, but according to Jenny Graydon, the director of Glasgow Association for Mental Health, it is easy to over-react. ‘Hospitals don't close overnight but media coverage tends to panic pe0ple,’ she says. ‘lt isn’t about whether we close big Victorian institutions, but how we do it with the minimum effect on patients. staff and the general public.

‘The old methods weren’t perfect, but it was the best we had at the time. We have to learn from that so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past, or invent new problems.’

Scotland is notorious for putting large numbers of pe0ple in prison, but this “bang ’em up’ approach also applies to psychiatric hospitals and other institutions, according to Graydon. ‘Glasgow was more heavily reliant than other places on hospital beds, and people have been used to that,’ she says.

Glasgow’s Gartloch Hospital, whose lOO-year history is examined in the Kelvingrove exhibition, will in

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December be one of the first in Scotland to shut down. The increasing move towards community care raises a host of questions which have yet to be properly answered about the boundaries of reponsibility between health and social services.

Some argue that people with mental health problems are not ‘ill’, but they are vulnerable to a variety of social pressures. ‘There is a huge debate about whether the problem is health or social care in nature,‘ Graydon says. ‘lt is a bit of a false argument, but it is important because it determines who picks up the tab. in fact it is a health problem but it manifests itself in social ways.’

‘There is a huge debate about whether the problem is health or social care in

nature . . . but it is important

because it determines who picks up the tab.’

The Government has said decisions on mental health reponsibilities must be taken locally by the bodies concerned. However, Scotland has a poor record of social work and health services working jointly, a situation not likely to be helped by the fact that both local government and health care are in the middle of fundamental reform themselves.

in theory this offers the chance to improve mental health services for ‘consumers’, but Graydon points out there are pitfalls ahead. ‘Users should have more self-determination but we are not achieving that if the service delivery becomes fragmented,’ she says.

The other risk with care in the community is that the cost of care could fall increasingly on the indivdual. People with long-term mental health problems often have to survive on low

incomes and may be dissuaded from looking for help they need but can't afford.

Against this background of change, the exhibition Out of Sight, Out of Mind opens in Glasgow this month. it‘s a unique undertaking. with archive material gathered together from all over the country, according to curator

Deborah Haase.

Two of the five main areas of mental health tackled are confinement, which gives a glimpse of what everyday life in an asylum was like, and definitions ofinsanity. ‘Delining insanity includes a look at how the media present madness and insanity,’ says Hasse. ‘lt's a subject which is often sensationalised.‘

The more predictable exhibits include strait-jackets and ECT (electro- convulsive therapy) machines, but the more esoteric equipment includes a hydrotherapy douche and a whirling chair. ’1 think it made you sick from every orifice which was meant to make you feel better,‘ explains Haase. There is also a look at some of psychiatric medicine’s more misguided theories such as phrenology, the ‘science‘ of diagnosing mental illness by the bumps in the patient’s head.

The introduction to the exhibition highlights examples of famous sufferers from Van Gogh and Sylvia Plath to the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. ‘We hail them as geniuses but if they were down the road some parents might stop their children playing with them because there is still a stigma,’ says Hasse. ‘One of the things that comes through is that for most people there is help. 1 hope that message gets out that it is not all a black hole.’

Out ()fMlnd, Out ()j'Sr'glzt.‘ Attitudes to Mental Health in Scotland 1790-1995 runs at the K elvmgmve Museum and Art Gallery. Kelvingmve from Friday 17 February.

I Environmental strategy Strathclyde Regional Council has produced a free booklet about its environmental strategies. Topics covered include: environmental services. transport policies, environmental education, environmental awareness and energy management. For your copy of ‘Environmental Action in Strathclyde' contact Adrian Shaw, Str'athclyde House. 20 India Street, Glasgow G2 4PF. Phone: 0141 227 3635.

I Critical mass Fri 10 Feb is lntemational Climate Alliance Day. A bike ride and demonstration has been organised for 5.30pm at Blythswood Square. Glasgow to highlight the problems of carbon dioxide pollution and excess car travel.

I Old-school socialism The Edinburgl branch of the Fabian Society offers a forum for the generation and discussior of policies, ideas and left-wing politics As part of a new recruitment drive it is holding a series of public meetings. beginning on Thurs 16 Feb at 24 Rutland Square. Edinburgh at 8pm. Dr Chun Lin will give a talk, ‘China Today: Socialism of Capitalism’, followed by a question and answer session. Details about future talks from John Clifford, 9 Howard Place, Edinburgh EH3 SJS.

I Poverty and conservation the Britisl Association of Nature Conservationists is hosting a public meeting at the National Trust for Scotland, 5 Charlottt Square. Edinburgh on Wed 15 Feb at 7.30pm. The talk, ‘Rural poverty and disadvantage: Why should conservationists care?‘, will be given by Gill Clark, social anthropologist in the department of land economy at Aberdeen University. Entry is £2 at the door

I PR for PR The Electoral Reform Society has organised a meeting for Wed 15 Feb at the Govanhill Neighbourhood Centre, Daisy Street, Glasgow at 7.30pm.

I Well women The new Centre for Women‘s Health, soon to open in Glasgow at 6 Sandyford Place, Sauchiehall Street is hosting an open meeting at 5.30pm on Thurs Feb 16 for lesbians and bisexual women to discuss their health needs and how these can be incorporated into the work ofthe Centre. The Centre aims to establish apprOpriate services and resources for lesbians from its launch. It is hoped women will come forward as a result of the meeting to work on the issues in a long-term and strategic way. Further details from Rosie on 0141 211 6700 or Judy on 0141 201 4624.

I ilaised voices VOCAL, Lothian's voice for carers, is holding a public meeting to support MP Malcolm Wicks' private member's bill. The Carers Recognition and Services Bill, which receives its second reading in March. Wicks will speak at the meeting on Mon 20 Feb at 1 lam in Lothian regional Council Chambers, Parliament Square, High Street. Edinburgh. Contact VOCAL on 0131 557 6700.

I It you have news of any events or courses which you want publicised in this column, please forward them to ‘Action’ at The list, 14 High Street, Edinburgh Elli 11E and include a day- time phone number.

The List 10-23 Feb 1995 5