• Asylum 09 April 2018 | View comments

  • 2nd April 2018 | By David Jolley

    This week I received a beautiful picture card from a friend who has sought refuge and peace in the beauty ruggedness of North Wales. It carries the sea and sky, land of an island and rain between.

    This is not the North Wales of beach, pebbles, running tides and friendly shops and cafes which I remember from our childhood. It is something more grown up and powerful. There are parts of the country where people find retreat, healing is a local industry. Generations of children from the North West and the Midlands spent days and months in the cold sanatoria which cared for them and their tuberculosis in North Wales. My first appointment as an SHO in psychiatry was at the North Wales Mental Hospital, Denbigh. Built a short distance from the town and its castle, its creation was to counter the disadvantage being experienced by Welsh speakers who were admitted to English Mental Hospitals http://northwaleshospital.btck.co.uk/

    ‘Denbigh’ is now closed, abandoned and its remains damaged by fire. I spent only three months there before moving to South Manchester. They were months which burned, maybe scarred, memories which I will never forget. The staff were impressive, caring, well-educated local people. Healing was a major local industry, alongside farming which was perhaps less dominant than had been. Doctors at the hospital base were an assortment of long-serving individuals with characteristics and limitations of their own. Consultant Psychiatrists ranged from the young and ambitious to the older ex-military, and were often away from the hospital at clinics dispersed across the wide territory of the whole of North Wales – as far down as Aberystwyth. Life and therapy in the attractive villas with in the hillside grounds was good enough and encouraging for recent admissions. Living and dying for old people within the bowels of the old part of the hospital was as dark as anything I have ever seen. Cot beds, contractures, reflex use of antibiotics, forty bodies to every single sex dormitory, a cockroach run at night time.

    A review of budgets told how little was being spent on people here in comparison to nearby general hospitals. There was less heating, less food and fewer staff. We did the best that could be done.

    This is a component of the changing scene which it has been my privilege to be part of. I look back in horror but not regret. This was the base from which marvellous changes have been made and we have been part of. Some of these advances have come from better medicines, but much more has come from greater awareness and wider involvement of caring people of all descriptions. Much of this has gone on and continues to be conducted, in the places where people live their working and family lives. Part of the movement saw mental illness become included within the general hospitals, first of the North West, and then throughout the UK. https://www.cabdirect.org/cabdirect/abstract/19702701868

    There is much more to be said about this and where it has led us. But for now, to reflect that even now we find help and therapy in the physical environment of North Wales and other blessed landscapes. Neither approach need be exclusive of the other.

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