Treatment of the mentally ill has a long and seedy history, a good deal of it revolving around extreme abuse and other scary things like lobotomies and electroshock therapy. Attitudes changed considerably by the Victorian era, although there was quite a way to go before anyone created what we would consider “modern” treatment plans.
As English courts began distinguishing between criminals who were sane and those who were obviously not, it became important to have a facility where the latter could receive care — thus Broadmoor was born.
Broadmoor Revealed is author Mark Stevens’ love letter to England’s first criminal lunatic asylum. It’s a detailed (if incomplete) history of the facility’s staff, patients, and and role in altering the treatment of the mentally ill.
The thing I liked most about Broadmoor Revealed is its focus on individual patients. Those sent into the mental health system often lose everything — possessions, friends and family, even their names — and I appreciate Stevens’ efforts to tell individual stories and give patients back their identities.
[pullquote]…I appreciate Stevens’ efforts to tell individual stories and give patients back their identities.[/pullquote]
The author also goes into great detail around Broadmoor’s establishment, its first four or five Medical Superintendents, and the Victorians’ views on crime and mental illness.
The book is comparatively short for a history of an institution established in the 1800s and still in operation today (Stevens was not able to see records of any patient from the 20th century due to HIPAA-related laws), but is still packed with lots of fascinating info.
And if 167 pages just isn’t enough, wait until Fall 2014 when Stevens’ next book, The Victorian Asylum: A Patient’s Handbook, is set to be released. I’ll be grabbing a copy as soon as it hops the pond!