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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 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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VINE VOICEon 21 February 2014
This book has really struck a chord with me. It resonates with my life experience from 3 angles. I trained as a psychiatric nurse in the 80's during the time of the author's experience. I also have training in psychoanalytic psychotherapy which, as well as professional study, demanded my own "lying on the couch" twice per week over several years to try and suss out my own demons, as has the author but in a way that only good writing can portray.
This book therefore pulled out many memories for me, and the writing sings. I feel it has been written beautifully, and with my own history, it will stay with me. I have just also finished listening to the final episode from Radio 4's adaptation for Book of the Week. As well as being engaged with the reading of it by Maggie Steed, there is the added dimension of today's politics that I feel enraged by. Whatever politicians say, mental health services are being decimated whole scale. I know, because I have witnessed the whole sorry episode from that point of readily accessible asylum, to the very poor community and inpatient services of today. Needless to say, my disillusionment fits in wholeheartedly with the author's conclusions.

I thoroughly recommend this book, and a must read for anyone presently in the mental health services who may have a jaundiced and cynical eye as to the function of the Victorian Asylums, which are now all destroyed. In other words, don't be seduced by modern day political diktat as to what is the best service for those of us who will inevitably have mental health problems.
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on 14 June 2015
Riveting personal story of descent into madness and treatment. Fascinating account of the history of Friern Barnet Asylum and of the state of mental health services in recent years and now. Makes one very grateful not to suffer from mental ill health problems as there seems to be no guarantee that one would receive the help needed. Beautifully written.
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on 2 March 2014
This is an exceptional book. Barbara Taylor experienced a long period when she needed help with her mental condition. She describes very movingly her relationship with her long-suffering therapist, and her experience of being in the asylum- her nuthouse and in various levels of care.
She also gives us the history of the way mental health patients have been treated over a long period. And finally the impact of current policies. 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 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 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 1 March 2015
This is an honest account of mental suffering, not sanitised, masked, made 'nice', but raw and transparent to the point that I sometimes found it hard to warm to Barbara. It is a brave book because of Barbara's honesty. I loved the weaving in of the historical, and ended up not being able to put the book down because I was captivated. Thank you to the Author.
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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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