Mental illness is indiscriminate. It affects people regardless of age, gender or social status. Currently one in four Britons will experience mental distress at some stage of their lives. The causes of mental health issues can be complex and are usually embedded within a variety of social, political and economic contexts.
In April 2015, Dr Nicole Baur was awarded a Heritage Lottery grant for a two-year project entitled ‘Remembering the Mental Hospital’. This project aims to produce an audio-visual archive exploring mental illness from a social perspective. Volunteers of all ages are invited to catalogue correspondence between patients / their relatives and the hospital as well as to share their own stories and experiences with the hospital. The information collected in this project will complement an existing database containing information from over 20,000 patient files originating in this institution and a digital collection of reports by various Medical Superintendents and the (unfortunately titled) Commissioners of Lunacy which Dr Baur created in previous projects. This extraordinary combination of surviving artefacts helps us trace changes in societal attitudes towards mental illness, whilst providing a unique window into in-patient mental health care in Devon through a ground-breaking combination of voices of medical experts, patients, and their relatives.
‘Remembering the Mental Hospital’ works closely with local charities and community groups, including Recovery Devon and the Recovery Learning Community. Together we will organise workshops across Devon, many of which will be designed to engage the public with their mental health history in creative ways. In addition to local workshops, ‘Remembering the Mental Hospital’ has also been represented at major national events, such as the ESRC Social Science Festival in November 2015 where we displayed outputs from the workshops in an interactive exhibition and a theatrical performance re-enacted patients’ journeys into and out of the Hospital. Overall, Dr Baur aims for the project to engage members of the local community with their mental health heritage and to provide opportunities for interested people to enhance their skills through volunteering on the project (e.g. supporting the cataloguing of the correspondence or assisting with interviewing).
To find out more about Dr Baur's previous work on the Devon County Mental Hospital, please visit the website.