Community Care in the Archives: A student’s view

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By | From the Collections, The Researcher’s View

Every year around this time, the Archives and Manuscripts department hosts a student from the UCL Archives and Records Management MA course. The aim of this two week placement is for the student to put into practice what they have learned on the course and produce a completed catalogue of an archival collection, and an assessed report about their experience. This year, Kirsty Fife worked on the personal papers of the psychiatrist Hugh Freeman (1929-2011), the catalogue. She shares her findings here.

Female patient in a cell

Bellevue Hospital, New York City: a female patient in a cell with barred windows. WI no. L0031132

Over the past two weeks I have undertaken a placement at the Wellcome Library, cataloguing the papers of renowned psychiatrist Hugh Freeman. Freeman made important contributions to changing mental health provision in Britain. As a champion of community care and deinstitutionalisation, Freeman pioneered psychiatric units in general hospitals. He went on to greatly expand day hospital and outpatient care, enabling patients with serious mental illness to be managed in various settings outside medical institutions.

His main concern was the conditions in which people were treated in mental hospitals and ways to prevent admission or to provide treatment in community settings. To this end he initiated teams of co-workers such as mental health social workers, mental welfare officers, nurses and GPs who provided early treatment and alternatives to mental or psychiatric hospitals. He also started one of the first psychiatric case registers with the help of the Salford medical officer for mental health. He used the register to monitor the service needs of the population of Salford, a poorly resourced industrial city environment.

The treatment of the mentally ill has changed dramatically over the past century – even reading some of the early papers in Freeman’s collection (dating back to the 1960s), the use of terms such as “mentally sub-normal” by many of his then contemporaries indicates a very different way of viewing those suffering from mental health problems. The move from institutionalisation of patients to managing them within environments in which they can still access constant support from their local community support groups and networks has had a substantial impact upon the way in which those with mental health conditions are understood and perceived by society.

Freeman’s papers include notes, slides, drafts, correspondence, lecture materials and an extensive array of publications and editorials from his career as an academic and editor of British Journal of Psychiatry  and other prominent publications.

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