Mental Health

This post looks, from the title, as though it could be a bit more weighty and serious than many of my others. I hope it won’t turn out that way. What I’m going to look at is the difference in attitude and outlook where mental health is concerned between the 1950s and now. I have to bear in mind that I was a small child in the 50s and so what I remember is a child’s view and might be different from an adult’s. However, the point of this blog is to share my memories of growing up in the Welsh countryside in the 1950s and 60s and I like to stay true to that and avoid putting in all sorts of researched facts and figures and quoting other people’s opinions.

It is a fact that mental health is now discussed more openly than it used to be. I have seen that change in my lifetime. There has been a big push here in Britain recently to bring mental health issues out into the open. There have been famous people telling their stories, mental health awareness events and various films and documentaries. This is excellent – but we still have a long way to go. People still find it much easier to say they’re suffering from arthritis, bronchitis, migraine or flu than to admit to going through a spell of depression or to talk about a lifelong battle with anxiety.

Back in the 1950s, these were some of the expressions you would hear adults using quietly when they thought you weren’t listening. ‘Had a nervous breakdown’, ‘bad with her nerves’,  ‘suffers with her nerves’. We all know now that that mental illness can affect any age, any gender, but at that time I only ever remember hearing women talked about in those hushed tones. Sometimes a person was described as being ‘not right in the head’. Occasionally you would hear about someone who had ‘taken to her bed’. Apparently my grandmother had an aunt who ‘took to her bed’ at some point in her life and never left it.

What we did know about was the large mental hospitals where people ‘ended up’ if they were really bad with their nerves or had a breakdown. Some people with very severe mental disabilities spent their whole lives in them. Fortunately, these places don’t exist any more. Originally they were called ‘lunatic asylums’. This was often shortened to ‘loony bin’. It seems appalling now that we could use such expressions.

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The mental hospital which was nearest to us when we lived in South Wales, called St David’s. It was operational from 1865 until 2002.

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The one which was nearest to us when we lived in North Wales. Both vast places! This one opened in 1848 and also closed in 2002. I have looked at maps showing the distribution of these institutions in the UK at that time and it seems there was at least one per county. Many are still standing and are either crumbling or have been converted into conference centres, apartments, hotels etc.

Since drafting this post I have been looking in two old books I have here on my shelves. They are ‘home doctor’ books. I believe many homes had one on their shelves for looking up any family ailments and deciding whether a visit to the doctor was needed. In fact I had one which I bought when my first child was born in 1980. After all, we didn’t have the Internet in the 1980s. Neither of these two old books have publishing dates but from some of the adverts and diagrams in them I’ve worked it out that the oldest one is from the late 1800s and the other one is from roughly the 1920s. Always an avid reader, over the years I have often enjoyed looking through them and marvelling at some of the weird and wonderful advice which was given.

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The oldest one (above, it’s lost its cover) came from my grandmother’s house after she died. I remember taking it down from her bookshelves as a child and browsing in it. It used to amuse me that unwell people seemed to be offered a lot of gruel, broth and bread soaked in or tea in Victorian times.

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The newer one (above) was from our house but, as it would already have been old when my mum and dad married in 1950, it might also have come from one of the grandparents’ houses.  I decided to see what was said about mental health issues. In the oldest one I could find no reference to any of the terms we now use such as anxiety, depression and stress. The only item relevant to mental issues which I could find in the older book was Nervous Disorders.

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The main recommendations at this time were active exercise in the countryside, regulation of the bowels and early rising.

Progress had been made by the 1920s and the newer book has Anxiety, Depression and Nervousness listed.

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By the this time, complete rest and exercising in the open air were still suggested but also the help of a doctor was mentioned.

Compare these extremely brief entries with the abundance of self-help books on the subject which are available today.

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How to Get a Man – 1950s style.

Unlike most of my posts, this one isn’t based on my own personal memories of childhood in the 50s and 60s but has been triggered by something which amused me.

Recently, I was on a train and I picked up a copy of the free newspaper Metro. In it was an article inspired by McCall’s magazine’s list of ‘129 ways to get a husband’ which has recently resurfaced online. Fair enough, even now single people can struggle to meet a partner if they live somewhere remote, work in an environment dominated by their own gender or are extremely shy and lacking in confidence. Dating apps and websites are replacing the small ads and can be a great way of meeting people as long as certain precautionary measures are taken in order to stay safe.

What is different about this is how dated it now sounds now and also how extremely sexist! Were men given similar advice? This links with my last post which covered sexist brands and ads from the 50s and 60s. In it I showed some adverts which implied that a woman had to be great in the kitchen in order to keep her man. I’m sure there weren’t any equivalents for men urging them to be handy with the DIY tools so that the woman didn’t leave him for a more capable model!

What follows are some quotes from the ‘129 ways’ list.

‘Don’t whine — girls who whine stay on the vine.’

‘If your mother’s fat, tell him you take after your father. If your father’s fat too, say you’re adopted.’

In the list women are advised to sit on a park bench and feed the pigeons, or ‘accidentally’ spill the contents of their bag in the hope that a handsome stranger will come to help.

The next one is particularly bad!

‘Make and sell toupées. Bald men are easy catches.’

Some examples from the actual list, taken directly from Metro online –

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50s couple   wife-53-600x728

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I also did a bit of Internet searching to see if there was a similar amount of advice offered to men at the time but found very little. Some of the tips I did find still managed to turn it around to what was expected of a wife e.g. ‘When you come home to a clean house and a hot meal, be sure to thank your wife for providing you with these things. Surprising her with flowers or another small gift will take you far.’

Finally, this list – abbreviated for the post – gives a list of nine things a wife must always bear in mind if she wants to keep her man happy. All advice was given by so-called marriage experts of the time.

1. A Smile Goes A Long Way

2. Keep Quiet

3. Wear Pink Underwear

4. Don’t Let The Kids Be Too Much Trouble

5. Expert Cooking Will Keep Your Man Loyal

6. Put As Much Care Into Your Appearance As Dinner

7. Don’t Be Too Sexual Or Too Prude

8. Don’t Be Mad If He Goes Astray

9. Remember That The Man Is In Charge

Have things changed? For the better or not? I leave you to be the judge of that This is for entertainment purposes only and I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

 

 

As always, my disclaimer is that all pictures and some information has been accessed online. If anyone has an issue with anything in this post, or in any earlier ones, please let me know and I will remove it.