Learning from the History of Psychiatry

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” George Santayana

The RTE “Behind the Walls” 2 part documentary highlighted that we locked up more people in mental institutions in Ireland that any other place in the world a few decades ago [1]. “Research shows that 33,000 patients died in overcrowded and disease-ridden psychiatric hospitals between the late 1920s and early 1960s, with death rates significantly higher than in the general community” Carl O’Brien, Irish Times [2]. In Nazi Germany people with mental health issues were the first to be killed and the last to be recognised [3, 4].

Athlone nurse Hanna Greally experienced Post Traumatic Stress after spending time in England during WWII and was sent into St. Loman’s hospital, Mullingar by her mother for “a rest”. She was admitted to the Psychiatric hospital at 19 and got trapped there for almost 20 years! Her birthplace is currently The Bailey pub in Athlone with a plaque outside.

She wrote an excellent book called Bird’s Nest Soup [5]. The last line in the book is very poignant “I am now a sadder but a wiser woman, and one who can say with certainty that knowledge and FREEDOM are happiness”.

Sligo woman Mary Maddock and her husband Jim wrote a book called Soul Survivor [6] which gives a more recent insight into Psychiatric survival. Like many other sane people, Mary got caught up in the Psychiatric system in the early 1970s, after the birth of her 1st baby. With the help of people like Dr Terry Lynch, thankfully she freed herself from the mental “health” system. I’ve included a short video about her below [7].

I don’t think people truly comprehend what it’s like to be in a Psychiatric unit unless you have been there. “One thing you will find on Psychiatric wards that you won’t find on other hospital wards is a lot of people in various stages of tranquilisation … Psychiatry is the only medical specialty where considerable number of recipients of Psychiatric treatment consider themselves to be survivors of the actual system” Dr. Terry Lynch.

Connecting to other Psychiatric survivors, including people like Mary Maddock, was a part of my healing journey. I also learned a lot from Dr Terry Lynch, Prof Ivor Browne and other honest doctors like them. As well as learning from the History of Psychiatry which, despite all the trauma it has caused in this country intergenerationally, many seem to have forgotten. Not forgetting the Rosenhan experiment proved Psychiatry to be pseudoScience over 40 years ago [8].


[1] Behind The Walls by Mary Raftery:

Part 1 ~ www.rte.ie/news/player/2011/0905/3043225-behind-the-walls/ (currently unavailable)

Part 2 ~ www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTOWZu0Gubo

“Behind the Walls’ is a two-part documentary series charting the history of Ireland’s psychiatric hospitals … a Misha Films production. Produced and written by Mary Raftery. It includes the story of Hannah Greally


[2] Call to extend mother and baby homes inquiry to mental homes ~


[3] Peter Breggin, MD – Psychiatry and the Holocaust–The Violence Initiative – Part 1 ~

[4] Psychiatry’s role in the holocaust ~

[5] Bird’s Nest Soup by Hannah Greally, 1971 ~


There is also an RTE documentary about Hannah Greally ~


[6] Soul Survivor by Mary & Jim Maddock, 2006 ~


[7] Mary Maddock: a survivor of ECT and decades of Psychiatric drugging ~


[8] David Rosenhan ~ Being sane in insane places ~ www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6bmZ8cVB4o

Other relevant information

* Music and Madness by Ivor Browne, 2008 ~


* The Writings of Ivor Browne: Steps Along the Road, the Evolution of a Slow Learner, 2013 ~


* Edward Shorter, Ph.D., author of How Everyone Became Depressed (Oxford 2013), is a social historian of medicine in University of Toronto ~ www.dredwardshorter.com/ (includes podcasts)


2 thoughts on “Learning from the History of Psychiatry

  1. I just read this post and it really just blew me away. It is so well written and even made me think about my own journey. You are so lucky to have found a way out and to have come across the professionals you did in the end. Thank you for writing this because it has taught me about how to deal with any life events in a more positive way. I’m sorry you had to go through what you went through but what you are doing now by sharing your experience, knowledge and story will hopefully help others to find the correct path. Its that correct path that can save lives and enable people to live a better life in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

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