Mental Health and Learning Disabilities: Heritage and Stigma

Lead Research Organisation: University of Huddersfield
Department Name: Sch of Music Humanities & Media


Mental Health and Learning Disabilities: Heritage and Stigma will bring together a number of projects on the history of mental health care. The University of Huddersfield will work with local charities (St Anne's and Mencap) and the South West Yorkshire Partnership, a regional NHS Foundation Trust, to actively engage a range of stakeholders in the development, delivery and dissemination of the project. At the centre of this project will be current service users who will contribute to both the design of individual projects and their successful delivery. The partners will work together so that they will ensure the long term legacy of their projects. This will include exhibitions in the short term but also the development and delivery of teaching and learning materials. Both will exploit resources held by the West Yorkshire Archive Service. These resources will be developed with a wide ranging audience in mind. They will be used, not only to understand the longer term story of mental health care but also address the stigma associated with mental ill health and learning disabilities in the past and in the present.

Planned Impact

The rationale for this project is a timely one. Research published in 2009 concluded that there is still a huge stigma associated with mental illness (O'Hara, 2009, Boseley, 2009). Similarly, the focus for historians and non-historians alike has often been the dark side of Victorian asylums. The headline in The Times (Deer, 1985) that spoke of 'the stark lessons from a scrapheap hospital' when a number of elderly patients died of food poisoning, echoed the Museums of Madness title of Andrew Scull's 'magisterial' (Smith, 1999) historical monograph. Headlines alone can enforce stereotypes and this collaborative project offers an opportunity for a large number of people to look again at the history of what can be an emotive subject. This joint working initiative will enable community groups to explore the longer term heritage behind the 'hidden' histories of mental ill health (St Anne's) and learning disability (Mencap). While the primary impact will relate to the stakeholders identified in the original AOS bids, the development of additional teaching and learning resources stemming from these individual resources will ensure both a much wider impact and an ongoing legacy. The outputs will be made available to members of the general public, educational and community groups and trainee and current practitioners working in the field of mental health. The PI currently works as a Visiting Research Fellow at the South West Yorkshire Partnership, NHS Foundation Trust and discussions have shown that there is a demand for such resources. This is reflected in the Trust's support for the project and the work will feed into the Trust's Creative Minds Agenda In addition, it will have an impact upon the groups identified by raising awareness of the past and present experience of those with mental health conditions and learning difficulties inside and outside of institutions; by helping to build positive images, especially amongst school children, of these groups; and by providing an important context for practitioners to help in their professional development. Finally the partnership will bring together voluntary and statutory service providers with academics and the heritage sector to broaden the potential opportunities to reach a wider professional and general public.

Sarah Boseley, 'Mental health stigma in business and politics', Guardian, 28 Sept. 2009, available at [accessed 28.11.12]
Deer, B. (1985) 'Stark lessons of a scrapheap hospital' in The Times, available at [accessed, 28.11.12]
O'Hara, M (2009) 'Mental Health is strongest taboo, says research'. The Guardian, available at [accessed 28.11.12].
Smith, L.D., (1999) Cure, Comfort and Safe Custody, Leicester University Press, Leicester.


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Description The Heritage and Stigma project was initially funded by the AHRC's Connected Communities funding stream. It did not allow for 'new' research but it did allow existing research to be utilised by community groups. In practice, this meant that the Heritage and Stigma team were able to support two mental health charities uncover the 'heritage' of their organisations. Working with different community groups has allowed for the development of a methodology that can be either disseminated to other groups or built upon for future projects. Using co-production as method has enhanced, not only the development of the projects outputs, but also its reach. In this way, the project has been wholly inclusive and reflective of the spirit of the Connected Community funding stream
Exploitation Route From the outset, the plan was to use the outputs sustainably. Mencap have included some of these on their website and use them in their fundraising activities. St Anne's Community Services are already looking at how they might be used in staff training and are working with the education team to disseminate findings within schools.
Since the funding of project ENDED, there have been attempts to make the data accessible to other, The PI has worked with Keele Uni and partners to entend the reach of the prokect using Cultural Animation and with Hoot Arts to develop visual imagery.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Healthcare,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The purpose of this particular call related to community engagement so much of the Heritage and Stigma project has been about its 'impact'. The Leeds Mencap exhibition drew in over 9,000 visitors during a fourteen day residency at Leeds City Museum and a launch event will take place this month (Oct 2014) for the St Anne's exhibition. These events have enabled us to meet the aims of and objectives of the project but the partners have reflected on the wider impact. Leeds Mencap's Head of Fundraising said that the research expertise of the Herutage and Stigma project helped the organisation to both raise their profile and disseminate key messages about learning disability and inclusivity'. Similarly, the Area Manager of St Anne's said that the research had helped the organisation to change the way in which mental health and service users were represented. Significantly then the impact of the H&S project has been recognised by the partners but in diseminating the findings, others have become interested in sharing the data. Kirklees Museums have also included some of the key message as part of a bid to the Arts Council for Health and Well being and we are currently working with HE partners to disseminate further.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Healthcare,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal