The origins of mental health services

An informative blog post from Joanna Moncrieff on the state of madness now and then.

Joanna Moncrieff

The Essez County Asylum (Warley hospital) The Essex County Asylum (Warley hospital)

In order to explore the current political context of mental health services, as I will be doing in some upcoming blogs, it is necessary to establish what the modern mental health system actually consists of and what function it serves. It is only by tracing the historical development of mental health services, and analysing how and why the system arose, that we are able to fully comprehend its actual purpose.

In England up until the 19th century, managing the problems posed by those who lost their minds was primarily the responsibility of the family, backed up by the social welfare system known as the Poor Laws.

Caring for the mentally disturbed was not so different from caring for the physically sick. Both groups needed feeding, clothing and housing. If the family was reasonably wealthy, the needs of one individual could be borne by the…

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