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Searching for the patient's voice in the Irish asylums
  1. Brendan D Kelly
  1. Correspondence to Professor Brendan D Kelly, Department of Psychiatry, Trinity College Dublin, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, Tallaght Hospital, Dublin 24, Ireland; brendan.kelly{at}tcd.ie

Abstract

The history of mental healthcare in Ireland ends to focus on the histories of institutions and development of mental health legislation. Attention has also been devoted to clinical records, with all of their interpretative and narrative complexities. In both the historiography and archives, however, patients themselves remain remarkably elusive, their voices astonishingly distant. In countries other than Ireland, there have been more extensive analyses of patients’ letters, journals and first-person accounts of hospitalisation and treatment. In Ireland, there is real difficulty accessing such accounts, if they exist, especially from the 1800s. Asylum and hospital records offer some assistance in understanding patients’ concerns and, arguably, the symptoms recorded in asylum records (eg, delusions) provide further windows into patients’ minds. Methodological challenges abound, but while patients’ voices may remain largely unknown at present, they are certainly not unknowable. This paper posits that we just need to listen harder and, perhaps, listen better.

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