This is an extract from the presentation given to the Royal College of Psychiatrists on 27th January 2016:
It was not envisaged in 1774 that the Poor House would take people with severe mental health problems, however because of a lack of any viable alternative they felt it necessary to provide some level of care. In January 1802 it was ordered that “2 rooms in this house be appropriated for the reception of such deranged persons as belong to & have resided 2 years, in this Town.” Pressure was constantly applied to the Poor House to take more and more cases. By the summer of 1802, rooms were also prepared in the belfry of Clifton House to provide more accommodation specifically for those with mental health problems. By 1810 it was necessary to move the very severe cases to Grangegorman in Dublin, who it was felt had the correct facilities to deal with the most ill patients.
Within the Poor House, they were much better equipped to deal with mild and moderate mental health cases. The circumstances which brought people to the Poor House would have had fundamental consequences for their mental health. Stress, anxiety, depression, addiction and even post-traumatic stress disorder could have all been the reality for the residents of the Poor House. Adults arrived at the Poor House destitute for many reasons, children came with a parent, or in most cases alone, either abandoned or orphaned.
The Poor House tried diet, exercise, education and industry as the key components to improving the overall health of the residents. Today we understand the importance of all of these things for maintaining good mental well-being, but they would have had similar effects in 19th Century Belfast.
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