Historical records used to treat today's mental health patients

Dundee University has given a group of people access to their archives in a bid to improve their wellbeing.

Historical records used to treat today’s mental health patients in Tayside STV News
Dundee University has given a group of people access to their archives.

Historical records of asylum patients in Tayside are now being used to help today’s mental health patients.

Dundee University has given a group of people access to their archives in a bid to improve their wellbeing.

The pilot project has provided them with patient records from over a century ago in an effort to help them reflect on their own mental struggles.

A handful of people took part, including 65-year-old Marion Fraser, who has faced battles with her mental health for more than two decades.

“If I’d known years ago [about this service], I could have been here years ago and made a difference,” she said.

“It’s a long term illness and people can see a broken leg or arm, but they can’t see a broken mind.

“If you can learn to talk about it more, and be open about it, which I would’ve been instead of hiding… it’s helped me enormously.”

The records come from an archive within the grounds of Dundee University.

Archivist Caroline Brown who oversees them says they have lots of useful information.

“They can actually help you have quite difficult conversations about things you may necessarily not want to have because you can feel an affinity with some of the things you find in the archives,” she said.

“It’s all about learning from the past but also transforming what happens today.”

The idea came from archivists in Norfolk. The project, called ‘Change Minds’, is now being rolled out in six areas of the UK.

“We think about mental health and we think about the dark times, people being put in straitjackets and things like that,” said Jacqui Eccles, a lecturer at Dundee University.

“But actually if you look at some of the instructions of people who went to work in asylums, there’s a real emphasis of empathy and kindness, on making sure that people are looked after in a homely way.”

Dundee University has received a share of £250,000 in funding to expand the project.

“Most of the patients went to a country setting. They had meals at a set table, they were given jobs if they wanted to so,” said Ms Fraser.

“They had a garden, they had walks. They had their care but they also had a lot more freedom.

“Nowadays the health service is getting better but some of the settings are too clinical.”

Ms Fraser has since gone on to set up her own weekly support group for others with mental health challenges.

She said reading these records has put herself in a better mental place and hopes it will do the same for other too.