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OU on the BBC: Mental Health - Sectioned/Mental - About the series

Updated Wednesday, 12th May 2010

Two programmes from the BBC and The Open University delve into the challenging subject of mental health.

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Who decides what constitutes ‘madness’? Who patrols the boundary between the mentally ill and the rest of society? What say do users of mental health services have in their own treatment? Sectioned raises crucial questions about the way we as a society perceive and treat mental illness.

With unprecedented access to one of Britain’s largest NHS mental health trusts, Sectioned follows the journeys of three men with long-term mental health problems who have been detained under the Mental Health Act (a process known by many as 'sectioning' or 'being sectioned') in the city of Nottingham. Filmed over several months, the BBC Four documentary follows them as they strive to leave the mental health system behind for good and regain control of their lives.

Richard, a young man in his 30s, is on the Intensive Care Mental Health Unit. He was detained after threatening a neighbour with a knife and it is not his first time in services. Since the age of 19 he has had a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and hears voices on a daily basis.

Andrew was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder over 20 years ago. Now in his 50s, he has been detained several times due to unusual behaviour when he is manic, which puts him at a risk to himself or to others. However, his mental illness hasn’t dictated his life – he has raised two children and maintained a successful career as a pathologist.

Anthony feels that he has been in a 20 year battle to leave the mental health system behind. His main issue is medication. The conditions of his section mean that he has to go to hospital every fortnight for a depot injection of anti-psychotic medication. While Anthony rejects his diagnosis of schizophrenia, the professionals around him disagree.

Mental: A History Of The Madhouse

Mental: A History Of The Madhouse tells the story of the closure of Britain’s mental asylums, through the testimonies of those who lived and worked in them.

In the post-war period, a total of 150,000 people were hidden away in 120 of these vast Victorian institutions across the country. Today, most users of mental health services live out in the community and the asylums have all but disappeared. The BBC Four documentary film explores this seismic revolution and what it tells us about society’s changing attitudes to mental illness over the last sixty years.


High Royds asylum Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: The Open University
High Royds hospital [Copyright: Richard Wilson, Blakeway/Open University]

Constructed around testimonies from patients, doctors and psychiatric nurses, the film uncovers the extraordinary array of experiences spawned by the asylums. These powerful accounts combine oppression, humanity, struggle and liberation. Interwoven into these testimonies, are the important historical landmarks and characters. We meet mavericks, like Enoch Powell and R D Laing, whose radical visions played roles in tearing down the asylum system.

The documentary focuses in particular on High Royds Hospital, near Leeds. With its landmark Gothic clock tower and endless corridors, it was the archetypal Victorian asylum, built to keep out of sight those deemed to be out of mind. Some patients will never forgive this theft of their liberty; others, who underwent experimental brain surgery, the theft of their personalities. Yet for many patients, High Royds offered genuine asylum from the hardships of a world they found difficult to cope with. During the drugs revolution of the 1950s, the hospital wrote itself into the medical history books, when its doctors helped pioneer Lithium as a treatment for manic depression – still widely in use today.

High Royds finally closed in 2003. Its buildings still stand tall – a monument to another epoch. But, as with so many other asylums, they have been sold off to be converted into flats. What High Royds and the rest really leave behind are the lives they transformed.





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