Mental Health

At the start of the 20th century, people with mental health difficulties were routinely placed in hospitals.

Bethlem Royal Hospital was based in Moorfields, deep within the City. Bethlem's moves to Southwark in 1915, then Beckenham in 1930, illustrated the trend towards moving people with mental health difficulties out of inner-city areas and into the countryside.

Cane Hill Asylum, later Cane Hill Mental Hospital, was opened in Coulsdon in December 1883. By the start of the 20th century, Cane Hill could accommodate up to 2,000 patients and served mainly south London, although it had started life as a Surrey asylum. Cane Hill was one of many outlying asylums that were run by the London County Council until they were taken over by the newly formed National Health Service in 1948.

In the 1950s, the number of people resident in psychiatric hospital beds peaked. Mental hospitals were large and imposing, overcrowded and isolated. They were closed communities where patients were kept separate from society, set to work and given physical treatments that from a modern perspective seem brutal.

At the same time, attitudes to mental health care were changing. In 1954, the first outpatient nurses were appointed at Warlingham Park Hospital, Croydon. They signalled a move towards community-based care that would continue into the 1990s. Mental health organisations such as the National Association for Mental Health forced the pace of change by setting up day centres and training programmes.

Many hospitals were closed in the late 1980s and 90s. The last patients left in Cane Hill in 1992, and Warlingham Park closed in 1999.

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