Pure Madness: How Fear Drives the Mental Health System

By Jeremy Laurance | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

Taking care to the community

People are not cared for in hospital. They get medication, containment and very little else.

Alison Faulkner, former inpatient and mental health researcher


Elizabeth Ward, Highcroft Hospital, Birmingham, November 2001

Within a few miles in this city you can see the best and the worst in mental health care - stepping from the unimaginable squalor of the old inpatient units to a warm and welcoming crisis house

It is the smell that hits you first on Elizabeth Ward, a single-storey building erected in the 1960s with twenty beds on the site of the old Highcroft Hospital. It is a mixture of cigarette smoke, sweat and urine. The atmosphere is hot and close. On the men's ward, the ten beds are separated by flimsy, flesh-coloured curtains. Beside each bed there is a small, wooden locker. There are no doors, and no privacy here. There are also no pictures, no books, no flowers, no possessions visible of any kind. It is dull, empty, drained of colour.

A man with lank black hair and a beard wearing a waxed Barbour-style jacket - despite the heat - is pacing the ward carrying two plastic bags. They contain all his belongings. He walks all day with the bags, despite offers from the staff to look after them for him. He has no room of his own, there is nowhere safe to put them which he controls access to and he doesn't trust the nurses. Joe, the charge nurse, indicates the shower room at the end of the ward, which has a cracked tray. The poor state of the place means people don't respect it when they come in. 'It's a vicious spiral,' he says, with a wan little smile.

-90-

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