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This article is taken from PN Review 48, Volume 12 Number 4, March - April 1986.

Doctors and Critics Iain McGilchrist

The mother of a psychiatric patient was worried by the harassment and ill-treatment of her son. Locked in an isolation room and treated as little more than an animal, he had been reduced to a state of abject misery by a regime instituted by a consultant newly put in charge of the hospital. The mother complained bitterly to the staff; the staff, who were acting on orders, felt distressed, but could not - or at any rate, would not - do anything about it. Then she lost her temper and there were angry scenes. But still nothing happened. Meanwhile her son went on suffering.

These few notes are taken from a case mentioned in the report of the committee of inquiry into the South Ockenden mental hospital, which came out in 1974, and I mention them not because they are exceptional in any way: un-happily they are not. My purpose here has nothing to do with the wrongs suffered by mental patients. It has to do with this mother. For the events surrounding her visits to the wards, her pleadings and finally her expostulations, were carefully recorded in the hospital files. But never once, apparently, did it cross any one of these careful recorders' minds that this angry woman had a cause to be angry: instead she was described as hysterical and paranoiac, as mentally unstable as her son. Fortunately the committee of inquiry thought otherwise; indeed without that woman it might itself never have existed.

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