At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the armistice was signed which formally ended hostilities of the First World War in 1918. Remembrance Day is an opportunity to commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts. Of course, the casualties that are often forgotten are those who experienced serious mental ill-health as a result of their military service, and also ordinary people caught up in traumatic events through these conflicts.
It seems a fitting time to announce the launch of a new project from the Good Mental Health Cooperative – Stories from the Borough of Portsmouth Mental Asylum during the Great War 1914-1918.
So how can the history of mental health care in the First World War help promote good mental health and hope in the present day? Especially in these challenging times when many people are experiencing the psychological as well as physical impact of the pandemic.
Here are three reasons to seek out stories from the past:
History tells us who we are – the stories of local people and institutions gives us fascinating insights into what the Portsmouth community and culture was like 100 years ago, and how that has influenced our city today.
History helps us understand change – mental health care at the Asylum (later St.James Hospital) is a very significant part of Portsmouth’s social history. The First World War had a huge impact on how mental health care developed – a legacy which can still be seen in today’s services.
History gives us perspective – telling people’s personal stories, especially those that are hidden from view, helps to shine a light into some dark corners of social history, and frees people to tell their own stories.
The project is in two stages – the first will be an online research group supporting each other to research different aspects of mental health care during the First World War, including the stories of people staying or working in the Portsmouth asylum.
The second stage is for people to get involved in creative activities – drama, poetry and art – giving expression to the stories and history uncovered by the research. This will form the basis of a multi-media presentation featuring the work of the whole project.