Bethlem Museum of the Mind
In my experience, people find it hard to talk about mental health. A visit to Bethlem’s Museum of the Mind might help start that conversation.
Enlarged and reopened in 2015, the museum is situated within the large grounds of the Bethlem Hospital, a 15 minute walk from Eden Park Station (trains from London Bridge, every 30 minutes.) On your way, you can see how many different Art Deco
features you can spot on the 1930s houses you pass.
There are three parts to the Museum. On the ground floor there is a gallery of art created by people with mental health problems, often for sale. The first floor has a temporary exhibition space, which is changed three times a year and the main, permanent exhibition.
A timeline curves around the head of the staircase on the first floor, showing the history of Bethlem Hospital.
As you enter the permanent exhibition, you hear and see words spoken either by staff, former patients, local residents, visitors or actors speaking words written a long time ago. Directed sounds mean the words don’t distract from reading other exhibits. A tickatape (better viewed from a distance) has comments from the visitors’ book, some from the 18th century and some more recent.
Some parts of the exhibition had a powerful impact on me. An audio of people’s reactions to receiving a psychiatric diagnosis were very honest and open. On display are examples of physical restraints which were used, giving rise to questions asked about the current use of medication as a restraint.
There is the opportunity to watch a video and vote on whether a patient should be sectioned. A deeply disturbing video shows someone receiving ECT, together with a discussion about whether it should be used as part of treatment today. There is an audio description of different talking therapies, but one thing that appeared to be missing, was information about drugs currently used and side effects.
Check the website for the list of free talks on the first and last Saturday each month.