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Explore Bethlem


Explore Bethlem: inside a nineteenth-century psychiatric hospital.

What was it like inside London’s Bethlem hospital at the end of the Victorian era? Was it really as chaotic and unpleasant as the hospital’s nickname ‘bedlam’ suggests?

We’ve used an original floorplan to recreate the hospital more or less as it would have been at that time. Visit each room for photographs and more information. Head straight to the doctor’s room if you want to consult a photo album featuring hospital patients.

This resource is designed to encourage discussion about mental wellbeing in its broadest sense. One in four people in the UK suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives but for all of us mental wellbeing is crucial and so we all have mental health needs.

This resource concentrates on cases and a regime that is in the past. This is deliberate. We hope that this gives a sense of distance and opens the way for discussion about the situation today. The circumstances of the people included in the photograph album are not so different from our own. The stresses in their lives such as work, bereavement, financial worries are still with us today. The treatment of mental illness has changed substantially. More emphasis is now placed on community care, but there is still significant debate about the best forms of treatment. We hope that the material contained in the hospital tour will prompt discussion of modern treatment as well as changing attitudes to the care of those with specific mental health needs.

The prejudice surrounding mental illness and the stigma attached to those who suffer from it remains considerable. We hope that this resource will help to challenge assumptions and prejudices, encouraging students to become more informed citizens.

Our intended audience is Key Stage 3, although we anticipate that other age groups may find the material relevant. The photographs have been used very successfully with younger children and we hope that the questions sparked by the resource will be relevant to all ages. Although we have included specific activities, we know others will have their own ideas and anticipate the material will spark further initiatives.