through the tunnel, endlessly seeking

historical accounts of mental health, 1960s-70s

From my searches the majority of historic information is from the medical profession perspective, with commentary from those who look upon these medics as saviours of society, taking on these societal misfits. Keeping them off the streets. I have found very few accounts from patients and service users, telling what it is like from the inside out.

The only account on the Ingrebourne Centre, where I had been referred in July 1970, was a brief history of Dr Richard Crocket the force behind the opening of this therapeutic community. I was not happy to read that Crocket’s approach to community therapy was largely experimental. Having watched ‘Mad to be Normal’, and detected certain similarities between Crocket’s Ingrebourne and Laing’s Kingsley Hall, I broadened my search to ‘Ingrebourne Centre AND RD Laing’. This proved more fruitful with posts featuring historical accounts of psychiatry in the 1960s/70s, and the ‘anti-psychiatry’ movement. My feeling that the ethos of Crocket and Laing were similar was confirmed.
– Dr Crocket had invited Dr Laing to visit Ingrebourne to speak with the staff on two occasions.
– Many of the Ingrebourne staff had read Laing’s work and agreed with his philosophy.

A socially ‘permissive’ period fuelled by radical thinkers, psychedelic drugs, and blurring of boundaries led the attack on orthodox concepts of mental illness. Ronnie Laing observed that ‘schizophrenia was a sane response to the insane environment of a pathogenic family’. He dismissed the need to separate staff from patients, and rejected oppressive, authoritarian practices. Clearly these ideas appealed to Crocket. Whether he shared the belief that psychosis was often fall-out from bad parenting was not revealed.

my reality

Between August 1969 and July 1970 I had been admitted to hospital three times, all on female acute wards within traditional hospital settings. The locked ward afforded a unique sense of security, and the days ticked by in a rhythm of expectation and acceptance. My first admission was to Marigold ward in Warley hospital, and the regular occupational therapy sessions meant being escorted in a group to Rose Villa, with Saturdays dances in the Duchess of Kent community hall, when male and female patients could socialise.

Marigold Ward, Warley Hospital, 1969 – 1970

There were no Saturday evening get-togethers at Southern General hospital where I was admitted in January 1970, but the range of occupational therapies on offer was broad: the activity room had large tables, a sewing machine, and I learned enamel work. I still have the blue pendant I created fifty+ years on. From my journal, February 1970, Southern General:

Tuesday: Dressed today. Played table tennis & badminton. Baking in afternoon.

I was back home some time in March, but my health deteriorated through April until 6th May when my psychiatrist suggested I go back into hospital. From my journal, May 1970:

I’m very unsure. I thought S. Gen. was to be the last and I don’t want to go back again. Mum and Dad want me to so I suppose I must.

Wednesday 20th I was admitted again but on to Daffodil ward as Marigold was being redecorated. I recorded in my journal that it was not so nice, but staff basically the same. In June I was told I had to go to ‘social therapy’ on “doctor’s orders”. Towards the end of the month my parents were called in for a meeting with my psychiatrist. There had been a similar one during my first admission: psychiatrist on one side of the desk, my parents on the other with me seated behind them. This time his assessment was more straightforward: that I could benefit from transferring to Ingrebourne Centre, and so there I was taken on Monday 6th July.

out of order into chaos

The contrast between the two treatment settings was dramatic. No locked doors, with male and female patients having access to all areas at all times, free to come and go, apart from the obligatory attendance at group therapy sessions. It was to take decades to recover from the culture shock of being referred to the Ingrebourne and living within its open community.