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Museum of the Mind: Whose Narrative?

One of the questions we asked in our recent consultation for the Museum of the Mind was whose narrative should lead visitors through the exhibition? As we commented at the time, the history of Bethlem Hospital in particular, and psychiatry more generally, incorporates many different - at times conflicting - perspectives. But whose should be highlighted in the museum? Nearly half of respondents to our surveys thought that patients’ voices should be given most attention, while only a handful considered other narratives (such as staff and relatives) to be especially important. The reasons for this tended to reflect the sense that this group has been historically marginalised, for example ‘because they are not always listened to’ or ‘because other groups are likely to be involved automatically in the “process”’. As one respondent stressed: ‘While I would not a priori designate one voice as being more important, it needs to be emphasized how frequently the 'patient voice' within psychiatry has been marginalized and occluded, and therefore how critical it is that adequate attention is given to this voice to ensure that it is not lost.’ This is certainly a view that we will strive to consider throughout our plans, ensuring that the museum reflects lived experience as much as theory and practice.

It must be noted, though, that just as many people stated that no one voice was more important than others and that the museum should reflect a range of experiences and opinions within mental health care, past and present. Even those who stated firmly that patients’ voices were most important also wanted other perspectives to be used alongside this. Interestingly, many considered that giving visitors an opportunity to feed back during their tour formed part of this diversity. Many people made generous offers to contribute to displays, something we hope to develop into ongoing opportunities, such as changing exhibitions or art installations which offer alternative perspectives on the material.

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It was made clear to us throughout that feedback within the museum can encourage ongoing debate over the topics raised. Thus, regularly changing comments on a particular topic could be added to the exhibition as visitors give them, for example, raising critical awareness and encouraging more people to get involved. This is something that we are now building into the introduction to the display, offering an opportunity for everyone to be part of the narrative of the Bethlem Museum of the Mind.