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Psychology students meet therapists and patients at Bethlem Royal Hospital and explore the archival collection at 'Museum of the Mind'.

Carys in Year 12 explains more:

Bethlem Royal Hospital is the first record of a psychiatric asylum in Europe, founded in 1247. Once a place of inhumane care, now marks a location which holds the evolution of psychiatric treatments for mental health disorders. Bethlem Hospital was known colloquially as ‘Bedlam’ – a word for uproar and confusion – in the fourteenth and fifteenth century as it began to make the transition into a specialist institution that was responsible for the confinement of the ‘insane’. As a result of its reputation, the hospital became an attraction to citizens of London, entertained by a morbid fascination for the life behind the ornate walls of Bethlem. There was an observable augment in dramatical references to the hospital that marked the interest, which can be partly credited to the establishment, itself, in 1576, when public visitation was permitted.  

Recently, year 12 IB Psychology students were granted the opportunity to visit Bethlem Royal Hospital with the privilege of exploring the archival collection within the ‘Museum of the Mind’. Greeting us at the entrance of the museum are the statues of ‘Melancholy and Raving Madness’, commencing the exhibition at the very foundational and basic understanding of mental illness. There was a total of two diagnoses in the field of mental health, those being ‘Melancholy’ and ‘Raving’. Now, standing there are more than 200 diagnoses.

The exhibition, in its entirety, is a collection of artefacts, both old and new, that explore the evolution of mental health care. On one wall, restraints and padded walls were exhibited, objects that may have been used in Bethlem Hospital in the fifteenth century. Elsewhere displayed old medical records (admissions and discharge notes); written stories from individuals who have struggled with mental health issues; and over 1,000 works of art, some of which were made by patients of the hospital, itself. In its essence, the museum aims to reduce the stigma around mental health by providing a space for the exhibition of work and stories from those who have experienced the tribulations of mental illnesses.

To accompany, the museum had a temporary exhibition, ‘The Faces We Present’. The collection explored the masks worn and facades performed by those with mental illness and the professionals who treat them. It seeks to deconstruct the presentation of external emotions that opposes those felt internally. 

Assisting the collection available to the public, the team within the museum gave us a tailored look into the past and the contemporaneous state of Bethlem Hospital. The archivist at the ‘Museum of the Mind’ met the group with an interactive talk on the extensive past of Bethlem Asylum, allowing for us to engage with sources. This included illustrations of the speculated life within Bethlem Royal Hospital, although some rather depicted ‘Bedlam’ with their depictions of the hyperbolic and chaotic conditions. We saw also portraits of patients during and post treatment within the ward and drawings of the original hospital and much more.

Following the historical talk, the perspectives from current patients within the hospital were expressed alongside therapists from Bethlem Royal Hospital, who shared their expertise on mental health disorders and ongoing treatment practices. These individuals shared their experiences suffering with illnesses like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and body dysmorphia disorder (BDD). Subsequently, we have gained an insight into the real-life experiences of individuals suffering with these disorders that we otherwise may not have received. The talks from patients especially, emphasised the importance of learning about mental health. The personal accounts from those suffering allow for preconceived stereotypes to be broken down. It seemed from the students’ responses that the extremities some face had been previously undermined, whether credited to lack of visibility of mental illnesses or to misconstrued information, and the talks brought to life the pervasive impact of disorders like these.

The content of the trip will provide insight to the IB Psychology course as we make next steps to examine the topic of abnormal psychology and more specifically OCD.

Carys, Year 12

By interacting with individuals who have OCD, my perspective on it has changed, as I think that the phrase ‘im so OCD’ is so overused and doesn’t stress the severity and seriousness of the disorder. I think now that when people say stuff like that it is almost disrespectful to those who have OCD, as it makes it seem a lot less serious and life changing than it is.

Previously, I had thought that OCD would not have been too difficult to live with in comparison with some other mental illnesses but upon hearing these talks I have found that it truly is a debilitating disorder. To learn that OCD rituals can take up hours which add up to take over days of people's lives, has changed my perception of the illness and I have new admiration for those who are fighting it. 

I was quite moved by the personal stories- showing the positive impact of professional mental health treatment on people's lives inspired me and the length of waiting lists shows how more hospitals like this are needed and that more people should get into the field of Psychology/Psychiatry.

When the person with BDD spoke, it really took me by surprise because I did not realise how bad it could actually be or how much it has the ability to negatively impact you and your life. I've heard of the disorder before but thought it was toned down and much less severe than I now understand it to be after properly learning about it. The emotion and struggle of the person really impacted me and completely changed my assumption of BDD which I had.

The detail and personal insight provided in the stories given surprised me as it can show how debilitating and harrowing having a severe mental health condition can be.

I was surprised at the methods that are used to challenge intrusive thoughts. It seems counterintuitive to actively encourage people with OCD into situations that are potentially triggering so it was surprising to hear that they deliberately break mirrors etc.

If you, or someone you care about is affected by any of the conditions detailed above, please contact a member of the Wellbeing Team (if you are within TGS) who will be able to support you.  Other useful contacts can be found here

Tagged  Sixth Form