Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Sad Story   posted by DavidB @ 11/10/2007 04:56:00 AM

There was recently widespread publicity in Britain and even internationally for the tragic case of Jean Gambell, who (according to the reports) was locked up as a lunatic at the age of 15 after being falsely accused of theft, and then 'lost in the system' until her family rediscovered her shortly before her death at the age of 85. Cue for much moralising over our predecessors' inhumanity and willingness to lock people up on the most trivial grounds.

As this article in the London Times reveals, the true story is more complex and nuanced. It turns out that Jean was one of a large and impoverished family, who aroused the concern of the local social services (or whatever they were called in those days). In 1937 she was found by the authorities to be a 'feeble-minded person' who was 'neglected and subjected to emotional deprivation', and committed to a mental institution with the consent of her father. (Her mother was herself already institutionalised.) Some years later she was released on licence to work at a doctor's surgery, but recalled to the institution after an allegation of theft (which later turned out to be false). She spent the rest of her life in various institutions, but contrary to the earlier press reports she was well looked after and had regular contacts with her younger siblings until some time in the 1980s. Then her mental home was closed, and contact was lost until a chance discovery earlier this year.

It is still a desperately sad story, but it is not obvious, on the evidence of the article, whether the authorities acted wrongly in regarding Jean as in need of shelter and supervision. This will probably not prevent the case entering the mythology of mental health care.