Life in mental health care - new history project fills research gap

The old St Francis Hospital in Haywards Heath
The old St Francis Hospital in Haywards Heath

Patients who experienced institutionalised care at the former St Francis Hospital in Haywards Heath are involved in a lottery-funded project on the history of mental health care.

Thanks to a grant of £26,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Shoreham-based company Paradiso will be charting the way in which medical understanding of and society’s attitudes towards mental illness shifted from 1970 to the present day.

Over this period, institutionalised health care, hallmarked by patients being shut away, evolved into community health care with more emphasis on rehabilitation.

Thirty people who have experienced Sussex mental health services will be interviewed as part of the project.

Paradiso will look at how care and treatments were provided in St Francis Hospital at Haywards Heath, Forest Hospital at Horsham, Brighton General, Graylingwell Hospital near Chichester and Hellingly Hospital at Hailsham.

Sufferers with a range of mental health conditions will be interviewd in order to gather their stories about depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, autism and dementia.

Some of the people involved will be looking back to the 1970s while others have more up-to-date experiences.

The information gathered will be stored in county archives in East and West Sussex. A selection of the interviews will also be broadcast on BBC Radio Sussex.

“Personal accounts will contribute to a valuable, but frequently overlooked, historical subject”, said Stuart McLeod who heads the Heritage Lottery Fund for south east England. He added: “This project enables service users to share the positive transformations in their lives that have come about as attitudes to mental health have altered.”

St Francis Hospital opened in 1859 as the Sussex Lunatic Asylum and closed in 1995. The complex, near the Princess Royal Hospital, has been converted into living accommodation by Southdowns Developments Ltd.

St Francis Hospital closed in 1995, seen here after it had been converted into private accommodation