How do you begin to understand modern society? Should you observe passers by? Should you keep up with monotonous daily news reports? In place of these, could you simply dive into the lives of our ancestors using what is around you? Of course you could.
In the 21st century, mental health is a subject that is becoming increasingly prominent in every day conversation. Openness, honesty and talk around these matters is encouraged (as it should be). The number of resources and people that can be accessed to aid with mental health issues is growing and techniques to promote positive mental health and wellbeing is evident throughout schools and workplaces. It is insanely difficult to imagine anything other than this.
The dark winding road leading to the infamous (now closed) Hartwood Hospital provided feelings of anticipation and unease. These feelings not far from those once termed “madness”, “insane” or that of a “lunatic”. The nurses building (pictured above) is the first of the ruined collection. Through the twisted trees, the building lies silent and grey – much like it would have been in 1895 during the 85 hour working week – working tirelessly to secure the “deranged”, “demented” and “disturbed” from what was then known as “normal society”.
In 1901, the psychiatric hospital was exceeding 800 patients that had little to no chance of ever reentering normal society. Medical Superintendent Dr. Archibald Campbell Clarke was deemed a forward thinking man and he was one of the first psychiatrists to realise that not all patients could be cured, but that the best possible treatment would always be given. As well as occupational therapy techniques, controversial methods were also employed. Electroconvulsive therapy was widely used to treat mental illnesses and Hartwood has gone down in history as the first institution in Scotland to perform a lobotomy, resulting in patients being left in a vegetative state.
The hospital was secluded but self-sustaining with its own gardens, farmland, cemetery and reservoir. The community continued to grow exponentially and finally closed in 1998 following the 1990 Community Care Act.
Following the progress of society’s view on mental health is crucial to allow us to understand how far as a species we have come. In one fifteen minute visit, so much gruesome history was perceived, however; the incredible journey that we and our ancestors have undergone was recognised. It is important to look around. It is important to know what is on your doorstep. It is important to discover what has been. Observing these eerily beautiful sandstone buildings, in a sense, allows us to capture what once was and – more importantly – what will be.