21 March 2019

21st March 1973 - Mental Patient Union started

The Mental Patients Union, 1973 has information about the formation of a Mental Patients Union

It says "A big meeting to discuss forming a Mental Patients Union was held in the evening of 21st March 1973. About 100 people attended this meeting at Paddington Day Hospital. The majority were patients or ex- patients. Most lived in London."

The Mental Patients' Union was an early radical service users group, and grew out of a strike at the Paddington Day Hospital to fight the proposed closure of the hospital. The union grew to have about 500 members across the UK and was active throughout the 1970s. They put together a bill of patients rights called the fish manifesto.

Another article about the union is in the Guardian ... The history of the radical mental health service user groups of the 1970s

20 March 2019

20th March 1904 - B. F. Skinner born.

On 20th March 1904 — B. F. Skinner was born.

Skinner was a dominant influence in psychology in the 20th century. Skinner's radical behaviorism provided a systematic analysis of the effects of consequences on behaviour. His principles of operant conditioning could train pigeons to play tunes on the piano or play table tennis. It was also the basis of more systematic research on pigeons and rats in the skinner box where they pecked a disc or pulling a lever for a reward, and that behaviour increases when it’s reinforced or rewarded.

The principles of rewards to shape behaviour were also applied to human being in the mental health field. Behaviour modification techniques were practised by many psychiatrists, psychologists and nurses during the 1970s and early 1980 to shape behaviour. An example of this might be when a carer only pays attention (the reinforcement or reward) to a patient who is throwing a tantrum (the behavior). So the carer would be asked to pay attention when the patient is behaving well, and not when they are behaving badly.

Similar principles of operand conditioning are behind systemic desensitisation for phobias and aversion therapy for something like smoking.

Thanks to the Today in Psychology History for this date.

19 March 2019

19th March 1957 - Orgone Accumulator banned

On 19th March 1957 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration brought an injunction against Dr Wilhelm Reich to stop the distribution and sales of his invention, the Orgone Accumulator.

The Orgone Accumulator was a multilayered metallic box intended to trap health giving radiation (called Orgone) and treat a person suffering from physical or mental illness who sat inside the box. A reporter from the Kent & Sussex Courier tried out the box and said that after twenty minutes he felt a warm glow inside him and a prickling sensation on the skin.

Dr Reich was a passionate man who believed that flying saucers were powered by Orgone, and that Orgone was the source of faith healing and much else that was not understood. He was a one time pupil of Freud who took psychoanalysis to new places.

Dr Reich believed that dark forces were opposing him, and that he was suffering for the good of humanity and so disobeyed the court injunction and continued with his invention. There followed a trial after which Dr Reich was sentenced to two years in prison for contempt of court. He died in prison on 3rd November 1957.

Thanks to today in psychology history. for the date.

18 March 2019

18th March 1959 - Cognitive Dissonance Experiment

On 18th March 1959 — Leon Festinger and J. Merrill Carlsmith's article Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance was published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. This was the first of many experiments to test Festinger's theory.

Leon Festinger proposed that if a person is induced to to something against their private opinion that person will feel cognitive dissonance and the person will try to get rid of the dissonance or conflict to bring back mental harmony. One way is to change their opinion.

In the experiment participants took part in a repetitive, monotonous task. At the end they were asked to lie to the next person taking part and say the experiment was enjoyable. They were paid either $1 or $20 for lieing. A control group were not asked to lie. Lieing supposedly created dissonance as most people think lieing is wrong.

The experiment showed that those who were paid less subsequently said that they had found the task more enjoyable. Festinger said this was to reduce dissonance. So apparently those who were paid a larger sum did not have dissonance.

Thanks to today in psychology history for this date

17 March 2019

17th March - St Patrick's Day

17th March is St Patrick's Day, a day where the Irish celebrate with pride their nationality.

The Irish poet Austin Clarke uses St Patrick's Day to recreate his own experience of going to St Patrick Asylum, Dublin, in 1919. He suffered a breakdown shortly after getting married. He writes in the poem 'Mnemosyne Lay in Dust', published in 1966, the account of being taken away, his freedom taken from him, his experience of loosing his memories and identity in that place, and only a few months later finding himself again. The poem is written in the character Maurice Devane ...

Past the house where he was got
In darkness, terrace, provision shop,
Wing-hidden convent opposite,
Past public-houses at lighting-up
Time, crowds outside them – Maurice Devane
Watched from the taxi window in vain
National stir and gaiety
Beyond himself ...

Then his worst fears became real as the iron gates are shut, his clothes stripped from him; he is then plunged in a bath with people watching. The experiences make his condition worse for a long time, during which he becomes paranoid; is thrown in a padded cell; and force fed.

Only near the end does being presented with strawberries bring back something of his old self, the red strawberries contrast with everything grey and white in the asylum.

Austin Clarke lived from 1896 - 1974. More about him in Austin Clarke (poet) - Wikipedia.

16 March 2019

16th March 1853 - New Moon

On Wednesday 16th March 1853 the Dumfries and Galloway Standard had a review of a periodical called The New Moon produced by the inmates of Crichton Asylum. The reviewer is impressed by many of the works in the magazine and says "It proves that man, even amid the aberrations of intellect, is a being of noble and immortal mould, and reveals the gleams of glory and grandeur that flit athwart the gloom of his beclouded and tempest-driven soul'.

Dr William Browne, the medical superintendent of the private asylum, was a pioneer of art and writing therapy.

One inmate wrote in the March 1953 New Moon, about the asylum, "I have found health in the beautiful grounds, amusement in the theatre, and wisdom in the lecture room; and in each and all, kindness and attention"

You could pay £200-£300 a year for a room at this asylum and have your own servants and so it was not for everybody.

The Welcome Institute has digitised The New Moon and it can be read online.

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive for the date.

15 March 2019

15th March 1949 - Kenneth Robinson becomes an MP

On 15th March 1949 Kenneth Robinson was sworn in as the MP for St. Pancras after winning a bye election. Before becoming an MP he had served as a member of the North West London Hospital Board, and knew the problems of the health service from the sharp end.

Thankyou to Andrew Roberts' Mental Health Timeline for this date. Kenneth Robinson frequently asked mental health questions in parliament. He was a great advocate of improved mental health services, and chaired the mental health committee, and became the Minister for Health. Robinson also served as the first chairman of the National Association of Mental Health (now known as Mind)

Here are a few contributions he made to debates in parliament (from Hansard) ...

19 March 1953
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the mental hospitals of this country are grossly overcrowded, that most of the buildings are hopelessly out of date and unsuitable, that these conditions are placing an intolerable strain upon the staffs and are hindering recruiting, and that 20 per cent. of the present very small capital allocation is quite insufficient? Will the right hon. Gentleman look at the matter again?

23 July 1953
Is the hon. Lady aware that the nursing situation in mental hospitals is deteriorating and may soon be quite critical, and that the General Nursing Council, who could do so much to help in this matter, seem to be unaware of the urgency of the problem?

19 Feb 1954
I beg to move, That this House, whilst recognising the advances made in recent years in the treatment and care of mental patients, expresses its concern at the serious overcrowding of mental hospitals and mental deficiency hospitals, at the high proportion of obsolete and unsuitable buildings still in use, and at the acute shortage of nursing and junior medical staff in the mental health service ...

Today, people are slowly but inevitably coming to appreciate that mental sickness is not fundamentally different from physical illness or accident and that it is something which can be treated in a mental hospital, in the same way as pneumonia or some other complaint is treated in a general hospital. That is a very important development, and I only wish it were progressing farther and faster...

21 March 1960
Is the Minister not aware that this country led the world in the open-door system in mental hospitals? Does he not think it is perfectly reasonable for any hospital to be able safely and profitably to open the doors of at least 80 per cent. of its wards? Therefore, would he use his influence to try to persuade the minority of backward hospitals to progress faster with this system?'