100 years of help for mental health

Bellsdyke hospital in Larbert, near Falkirk, April 1987.
Bellsdyke hospital in Larbert, near Falkirk, April 1987.

The use of electric shock treatment to help “cure” patients with mental health problems is part of a fascinating new exhibition being held this weekend.

Old hospital records and library documents have been used to put together a display which tracks the past 100 years of treatment in the town.

The exhibition, which is being held today (Thursday) and tomorrow at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, will be accompanied by information stalls to raise awareness of mental health issues thought to affect one in four adults and one in ten children in any given year.

It is one of the first times support organisations such as Falkirk and District Association for Mental Health (FDAMH), Caledonia Clubhouse, and Penumbra, as well as council and NHS-funded services, have worked together on such a large scale in an attempt to help more people affected and reduce the stigma which still surrounds mental health.

John McGowan, a project worker at Calendonia Clubhouse in Etna Road said: “What we hope to do is raise awareness of the services and support available in the town.

“It’s been a few months in the planning, and although we have worked together on other events in the past, I don’t think there’s been anything on this scale.

“It’s certainly the first time that an exhibition of the history of local mental health services has been put together.

“I think there definitely needs to be more awareness of mental health issues.

“If it doesn’t affect you, then it will probably affect a family member or a friend.

“Raising awareness and reducing the stigma has come a long way, but I think we still have a good bit to go.”

The exhibition will feature photographs, old uniforms and memories from former patients in a decade-by-decade account of mental health services in the town in the past century.

Pauline Seth, support manager at Falkirk-based Penumbra, which took the lead in organising and researching the exhibition, said: “It was really difficult to get the information, and it meant a lot of trawling through old hospital and library records.

“I think there would have been more information had we had more time, but it’s definitely something we can build on in the future.

“This exhibition is about raising awareness but it’s also about looking at how far we have come.

“In the 1930s, patients with mental health problems were still being treated on electroconvulsive therapy chairs just like in so many other hospitals.”

Lisa Cohen, See Me programme manager, said: “It is great to see so much proactive work being done in Falkirk to make mental health a talking point.

“We believe that one of the main ways to tackle the stigma around mental health is for it to become a part of everyday conversation.

“Mental health affects all of us.

“If you know someone who is experiencing a period of poor mental health it is easier than you think to talk to them about it.

“Ask them how they are and let them know you’re there for them.

“No one should feel ashamed or embarrassed to speak about a mental health problem and the great work being done in Falkirk for World Mental Health Day shows that mental health is a part of all our lives.”

The events, being held in the Larbert hospital’s atrium between 10am and 4pm each day, coincide with World Mental Health Day on October 10.