Jo Reah: My time at Middlewood
Jo Reah is a poet, who has written about her time in different psychiatric hospitals. Here she gives a snapshot of her life in Sheffield’s notorious Middlewood Hospital, which was closed down in 1996 as mental health institutions were replaced with the 'care in the community' model.
I’ve been in and out of different hospitals for most of my life, since I was about 15. A nine month period’s nothing; it’s a revolving door. I’ve been in Whiteley Wood when that was a psychiatric hospital, and Northern General for a short time, before I was transferred to Middlewood.
Middlewood was the best, I got top class treatment there. I found it similar to a lot of hospitals – just on the edge of towns, just in the countryside – an old fashioned Victorian hospital that used to be called an asylum. Middlewood had lovely grounds, and walking in the grounds was very therapeutic. It also had a shop, a cafe for the patrons, and activities like occupational therapy, sewing soft toys – I enjoyed doing that – pottery, painting, art, cookery. They had a boutique where I bought a lot of my clothes – they weren’t expensive but it was good quality stuff, just like a proper shop. So there was a life for the patients.
This lady used to come round the dormitory in the mornings and say ‘anybody want to go to the gym?’. Most people went under the sheets again and said ‘no thank you!’. Some of the patients weren’t so polite.
Everyone was expected to attend the community meetings. The doctors and the nurses and all the patients would sit round in a circle and any problems were laid out. I went through a stage where I was telling everybody jokes. I was in for depression but somehow I went the other way a bit. People laughed at my jokes and the more they laughed the more jokes I told them. I didn’t feel depressed at all then.
But, staying there too long, I started to get institutionalised. There were quite a lot of patients like that, whose mental health problem – whatever it was – went years ago but because they’d been in hospital so long they couldn’t look after themselves.So in a way community care is good, I’d be out on my ear now for telling jokes!
Another thing I didn’t like about the big hospitals is that everybody could smoke in those days; staff and patients, in the dayroom, in the corridor, in the office. The office was like smog in London, quite often you couldn’t see out the windows! Unfortunately I’ve got a disease from that now – I’ve never been a smoker but I have COPD as a result of smoky hospitals.
I’m pleased to say I haven’t been in hospital for 12 years now, since I started getting support from SORT (Sheffield Outreach Team). They help me live a relatively independent life; I see my social worker once a fortnight and my support worker the other week, so I see someone once a week at least. On Thursdays I go swimming and after that it’s my art group – that’s dead good. I’ve even been on holidays with SORT, and there’s a great feeling of fellowship between us all on these holidays; we go in the swimming pool together, in the sauna, and meet for a drink.
I suppose I’m independent, it’s better than being dependent on the hospital.