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The author, Barbara Taylor, spent 8 months in what was called Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum (which later had a name change to Friern Hospital).

This is the amazingly well told, brave and interesting story of Barbara Taylor. The story of a woman who is a historian, and a published academic, She progressively became unwell and what started out as anxiety morphed into complete breakdown. She had a couple of decades of treatment which included psychoanalysis and her stay in what was called at that time, the Asylum. Her story makes the reader really feel for her. She goes to show that anyone can suffer from mental health problems from whatever background.

Behind her story is a solid history of mental health and the mental health care system. She integrates her own treatment into this history and puts it into context.

The really incredible part of this book is the honesty with which she talks of her story. It is told with such honesty and as a reader I felt touched and honoured to be able to read her account. In places, the book made me feel emotional. There are not many books about that do this to me.

Thank you Barbara Taylor for writing this book.

Highly recommended.
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on 1 June 2014
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in mental health Not always an easy read, it's a brave and powerful account of one woman's journey through the mental health system and through psychoanalysis, also tracing the history of psychiatric treatment in this country. This encompasses the closure of the old asylums and move to community care, recent issues including severe bed shortages, the rise of Community Treatment Orders and lack of continuity of care. The author, a historian at Queen Mary College, University of London, has organised various events to help publicise this book, including a panel discussion featuring professionals and service users. Sadly, a good number of them, besides members of the audience at the one I attended, concluded that things are now worse rather than better, partly as a result of what was described as quick fix/box ticking culture in the NHS.
Let's hope two things happen: the post Francis Inquiry work NHS trusts have to do to change their cultures has tangible results and the promised 'parity of esteem' (allocation of equal resources to mental as physical health) will be delivered by NHS England and the Government.
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on 19 February 2014
After reading Jenny Diski's review in the LBR and for reasons of my own I was interested to read this book and was not disappointed. Compelling because although harrowing to read it is beautifully written, It is about Barbara Taylor's own hellish journey through extreme mental illness (she calls them her madness years), her psychotherapy,and her years as a mental patient at Friern, but it is also a historical meditation on mental illness and mental health care in Britain in that period.
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on 18 March 2014
I really enjoyed reading this book. It is well written and the author describes her experiences of psychiatric hospital with clarity and some wit. I particularly enjoyed reading about her experience of psychoanalysis. Her opinions and thoughts on the demise of institutional care and its replacement with "community care" are thought provoking. I worked in mental health services for many years and was part of a team responsible for the closure of a large psychiatric hospital and was very interested in reading about a "patient/client/service users" experience of this process. I also have experience as a "service user" myself and found this book very helpful personally. I thank the author for a great reading experience..
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on 6 May 2014
The author is both honest about her personal story and thoughtful in discussing the history of mental asylums in Britain and of the decline in services for mentally ill people today. I couldn't put it down! The accounts of the psychoanalytic sessions were fascinating.
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on 28 March 2014
"The last asylum:a memoir of madness" moved me to the core. It manages to combine two very different and yet experientially overlapping stories - Barbara Taylors own long,often terrifying therapeutic journey through breakdown, not to recover herself but to discover and create her self : and the story of the age of the asylums in this country, again through experiential witnessing of one of the biggest of those asylums as it moved towards closure, and its replacement by a mental health care in the community which is a ghostly shell of what it claims to be, now. My journey as a mental health worker and psychotherapist began at that hospital, and, all these years later I am sadly aware of the paltry lack of care in the community by those of us disturbed depressed and sometimes disintegrated by our harsh competitive and sometimes brutal social environments.Barbara Taylor survived and her brave testimony should be read by all those who care about their fellow citizens, and our shared vulnerability as human beings.
Les Parsons
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on 15 April 2014
An interesting and informative book that deserves a place in the literature recording the history of the treatment of mental illness. In particular the Epilogue contains the best summary I have seen of the current failures in treatment modalities offered in the UK under the guise of IAPT; a succint and perceptive view by Barbara Taylor throwing light on some of the many difficulties facing practitioners and patients alike in these times of 'austerity'.
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on 22 April 2014
A much needed insight into a breakdown and a journey through the experience and the help that was available - both statutory and in the private sector.
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on 4 November 2015
An excellent book and quite riveting - so glad I found it. It tracks both the history of mental healthcare, and its lack, against the author's own history of psychological distress and recovery using both an old-fashioned asylum and psychoanalysis - a rather rare combination. It describes the shut down of the old asylums, though without much description of the undoubted political joy in getting hold of all that highly valuable land, and the excellence of the day hospitals and hostels that followed but which have largely vanished. I'd have liked more about the bedlam of the acute psychiatric wards, then and now, and what should be done to rectify the loss and to address the ignorance of commissioners in purchasing mental health services. I wasn't over-impressed by how long psychoanalysis took, 20 years of 5 times a week? It was an interesting alternative but really... As a clinical psychologist and psychotherapy researcher I've seen huge changes in people with relatively short-term psychodynamic work, though I accept that's not for everyone and another sort of provision is still needed for people who don't respond to short-term work. The day hospital I worked in was excellent, like the author's, again because led by an excellent psychiatrist (but also endangered by two horrendous ones that staff desperately tried to keep patients away from). Anyway, those are personal quibbles. The book was a great history and a brave account of personal experience and I loved it. (Was Anna actually Anna Coote I wondered? I think she helped others in distress. It was a difficult couple of decades for women...)
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on 3 April 2014
An indispensable account of living with mental and emotional disturbance, and of being held with this until able to choose to live. Taylor describes just how important and toxic large institutions were. One of the many impressive features of her account is her description of the 20 years of psychoanalysis that kept her going and held hope for her when she could not even glimpse this herself. This is an object lesson in how poorly mental health 'care' offers help with the very profound 'basic faults' that underlie what is seen as major mental illness.
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