About the project

Promoting Mental Health Through the Lessons of History started off as three podcast series. The first series looked at the history of psychiatry in Britain and Ireland from all angles and covering multiple constituencies – not just about medicine and the development of the psychiatric profession, but also looking at how families, communities, and societies perceived and tried to help those with mental disorders against a backdrop of profoundly changing economic, social, intellectual, scientific, and political life. Series Two focused on the experience of sufferers and those close to them, giving voice to the ordinary people of the past who knew they were mad, or who others thought insane. It used extracts from things they wrote or which were written about them, to explore what it was like to be mentally disordered or to cope with someone who seemed that way. There is a mini-series on colonial psychiatry in Anglophone Sub-Saharan Africa, commissioned by the College of Medicine, University of Malawi, as part of the Scotland-Malawi Mental Health Education Project. The idea behind Series three, Understanding Mental Health: conditions, caring, and contexts, is to discuss aspects of mental health that are prominent in the public imagination, but which may not always be fully understood and may sometimes be misunderstood. The twenty or so half-hour podcasts I have planned will be structured as a discussion between myself – an historian who has worked on mental health and healthcare, and is curious about science, welfare, and service provision in the present – and an expert researcher and/or medical professional. Most of the talking will be done by the interviewees and the focus will be firmly on the present (and future), but informed by comparisons with the past, which I shall use to introduce each interview.

All the podcast series are part of a much larger continuing project called ‘Promoting Mental Health through the Lessons of History’. The project also includes an exhibition, ‘Face to Face: Stories from the Asylum‘, which was held at the University of Dundee in 2018 and ‘Prisoners or Patients?‘, an exhibition held in conjunction with National Records of Scotland in August 2019 as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Listen online
to Professor Houston’s talk at the National Records of Scotland

View BBC Scotland’s interview with Professor Houston on the BBC Reporting Scotland website.

Watch Professor Houston’s presentation about the background to the “Prisoners or Patients?” exhibition below.

On June 17th 2021, Professor Houston delivered a presentation to the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The virtual conference, Devolved psychiatry: 180 years of diverse development within the UK, was held to celebrate the RCPsych’s 180th Anniversary. To accompany his presentation, Professor Houston has produced a podcast which is now available online.

View Professor Houston’s latest presentation entitled Face to Face: photographs of asylum  patients in the 1890s.

In his latest podcast, Professor Houston expands on an interview he gave to BBC Wales for their podcast series on the Aberfan disaster of 1966.

Further Resources:
BBC Wales – Aberfan: Tip number 7 podcast series
Information about Electroencephalograms
Iain McLean and Martin Johnes, Aberfan: government and disasters (Cardiff: Welsh Academic Press, 2000), especially chapter 5.
Morgan, L., Scourfield, J., Williams, D., Jasper, A., & Lewis, G. (2003). The Aberfan disaster: 33-year follow-up of survivors. British Journal of Psychiatry, 182(6), 532-536. doi:10.1192/bjp.182.6.532

Professor Houston was recently interviewed by the ARA Learning section of the Archives and Records Association about his ‘Prisoners or Patients‘ exhibition, held in collaboration with the National Records of Scotland. The vlog, produced by the ARA, discusses how academics and archivists can work together to use archives to create education and learning opportunities.

Professor Houston has recently been appointed as historical advisor to the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland on the occassion of their 60th Anniversary. As part of the Anniversary programme, he has recorded a series of podcasts on the formation of the Commission and the history of the law and mental health care.

The podcasts are available to listen to for free on the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland’s 60th Anniversary web page or on their soundcloud streaming site.