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A Significant Medical History

The 60 years since the birth of the NHS have seen major changes in psychiatric treatment. The 1950s are often held to be the crucial period, as it was during this decade that the main drug treatments were developed and introduced. For the first time drugs were available which did more than just sedate agitated patients. Drugs with anti-psychotic, anti-depressant and mood stabilising effects were introduced. These drugs have increased the effectiveness of treatment and contributed to the rise of community-based psychiatry.

The most famous of Glasgow psychiatrists, R D Laing, was involved in an experiment in social psychiatry at Gartnavel Royal Hospital in the mid-1950s.

Researchers were appointed to look into the effect of the environment on patients and the young R D Laing, fresh from Army service, joined them with a suggestion. It was that twelve of the most chronically ill patients spend each day with the same two nurses in a pleasant room with opportunities for communication and activity. If the patients became noisy, excited or abusive that was to be met with acceptance.

As they grew fond of the nurses, the ‘Rumpus Room’ patients became less disruptive and they employed themselves on what they saw the nurses doing. In a year or so they were well enough to leave hospital. Laing concluded that social psychiatry rather than drug therapy represented the way forward. His subsequent writings, from ‘The divided self’ onwards helped fuel a public debate on psychiatry which still continues.

Recent years have seen a network of community mental health resource centres being created. Psychiatry has been brought closer to the population it serves and no longer works out of remote institutions.

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R D Laing - founder of new mental health treatment