Henderson Campaign Resources

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Family and Ex-Residents Tell Their Experiences

For more information, or for live interviews, contact: savethehenderson@hotmail.com

A Sister's Story

We are constantly hearing through the media that 1 in 4 people will be affected at some time in their lives by mental health problems, it makes be extremely sad and cross to think that they could even contemplate closing the Henderson. When my sister was diagnosed with BPD we thought ok so they have found the problem but is there a solution. We were so pleased when she was offered a place at the Henderson, and after spending a year there she finally came out the other side. I believe it truly saved her life. Before the Henderson I would call her up and pray that she would answer the phone and that when she did she would be ok, I can't tell you the sleepless nights and worry we all had during that time. She has since started a college course and is going to be a very successful young women. She is a changed person, she is more confident, happy and is managing her BPD so well. Without the Henderson I don't know where she would be today. Please please don't even think of shutting the Henderson down it saves lives.

A Mother's Story

When my daughter became ill, it took two years to get a proper diagnosis. Before this diagnosis, we all went through an emotional rollercoaster, worrying every minute of every day that something terrible would happen to her, as no-one seemed to be able to help her. In the end she was referred to the Henderson. Before she went there, our thoughts were that a year was like a lifetime, and had many many doubts and worries about her being there.

However, after a month at the Henderson we all began to see the light. She steadily and painfully came to terms with BPD, and learned how to deal with many of her issues. The Henderson has taught her to take control of her life and to live it to the full.

We were so grateful to the Henderson, and cannot imagine what would have happened to her if she had not had the time there. Please don't let it close down. It is the only hospital of it's kind - and there are so many other people out there who would benefit from it's being kept open.

It was my daughter's saviour. Please keep it open.

A very grateful mother

Andy Capp - Ex Resident

- Originally posted on Henderson Campaign Discussion" space on 5 January 2008 at 15:45.

I come from a working class background with my family roots coming from Hackney in East London. They moved to a Hertfordshire “New Town” in the early 50s. For one reason or another, I left home at 16 and was homeless for much of the time until I was 18. I fell heavily into crime, drug, drink and women. Needless to say, these things need to come to a head and that they did.

Whilst 18 and after a long weekend of self abuse, I hit rock bottom and had a massive nervous breakdown. I was locked up, messed up and with very little future, at this point. Over the following 5 years, I spent 4 out of 5 years detained in one institution (asylum as they were once known) Diagnosed as Bipolar I was drugged beyond belief, to the point where one of the suits was writing a study on how it was I was still able to function and was slowly slipping into the life of a vegetable. On at least 3 occasions I tried to take my own life, while I was lucky enough to pull though it, many of the people I know didn’t.

I was very unpopular amongst most of the staff in my local hospital. I had made a official complaint against the staff because they were overdosing me on a daily bases (rich given the medication I was on). There were a full audit taken of the pharmacy stocks and sure enough my complaint was upheld. However, the audit also found that the problem was rife. Six Nurses were suspended and the charge nurse was sacked.

Now, at age 22 I was no longer welcome in my local hospital and was forced to seek help elsewhere. Then I was offered an unlikely offer of a chance to come off the medication and go to very special hospital in South London. A place that only a very select few get a chance at. I think to this day, it was compensation for the mess that my local hospital made.

The whole philosophy was based you helping you to help yourself, no drug, no shocks, no lock in rooms and you are free to leave at any point you wish. There was 24/7 support 365 days of the year. Support not from staff but from the other residents you share the building with. Group therapy and in-depth discussion into the deepest darkest parts of your lives. This helped me to understand myself and the very things that made me ill in the first place. The ability to take control of my life and find a direction the move forward in.

I am 40 now and 18 years on, this hospital very close to my heart and mind. There are not many days when I don’t call on something I leant there, even after all this time. The hospital very possibly saved my life, as well as re-shapping it.

I have a wife, 3 great kids and have only visited one mental hospital within the first year of leaving The Henderson Hospital and that I think was the shock of being able to live life without the NHS.

I have set up a forum to help support the fight to stop the closure of The Henderson Hospital


Please feel free to drop by

Retrieved from "http://www.tc-of.org.uk/wiki/index.php/Talk:Henderson_Campaign"

Veritee - Ex Resident

Posted by: Veritee, Cornwall on 10:31pm Tue 18 Dec 07

I was a patient of the Henderson Hospital over 30 years ago (1976)

At the time I certainly felt that it had saved my life. And I went from troubled a young woman, who had already and probably would have continued to cost the state ( NHS, Police, social services) uncalculated thousands, to become a productive member of society. I am now in my 50s.

On leaving the Henderson I trained as a teacher and youth worker, worked as such for over 25 years and assisted countless young people myself.

I have stable relationships, and have now been very happily married for over 20 years with a grown daughter.

It did not come without personal cost, but then nothing does. And there are ongoing issues for me arising from having being part of such a radical treatment system. I did and do feel stigmatized and labeled by being classed as someone with a personality disorder at what was a fairly young age.

In fact when I was there it was not called personality disorder. At least I did not hear this term until years later, but young or creative ‘psychopaths’. This at least was the term used by other residents as I do not recall my discussing this with any staff. I was very ignorant of mental health issues at the time and did not know what my diagnosis was or even if I had one, so found it very frightening to hear that I may be classed as psychopathic, as this had such terrible connotations to me my friends and relatives.

Later after I left the Henderson I read Stuart Whitely and others book 'Dealing with Deviants' (Stuart was director at the time I was there) And after this wrestled, on my own for many years, with the issue that I may have been somehow a deviant!

But these are my own personal issues probably steming from the fact I was at the Henderson in a different era and have never had anyone to discuss my diagnosis or the implications of being in the Henderson in terms of such labelling and also due to my compete ignorance when I was admitted to the Henderson, as to most aspects of mental health. However I would always appreciate a chance to discuss and explore my issues re feeling stigmatised by the language used at the time to describe my difficulties.

I am not sure now I ever did have a personality disorder or was/am a psychopathic as it as called at the time. It is a scary thing to accept even at 54 and after many years to think about it -

but I do know I was a very mixed up young woman with a chaotic life I could not get under control and DID need residential help to do so. Care in the community just would not have worked for me or any other of the patients who were resident with me at the time

However the labeling may have happened anyway, had I continued to behave as I was. And apart forom this ongoing personal issue, on the whole the stay proved to be very positive for me and my future life

As well as being a teacher and professional youth worker for over 25 years I founded and now run a charity for women with PNI. I am not sure now my stay in the Henderson actually saved my life, but I do know that my stay there enabled me not to be a burden, financially or any other way on society from the moment I left, but to lead a life whereby I have not cost society anything more than the average person in terms of health care etc, but also put much back in terms of my work and my time.

If it facilitates this for just one or two people a year it has to be worth funding in terms of cost and other factors to society.

My treatment at the Henderson not only saved thousands in terms of my own potential future state care it also benefitted my immediate and extended family directly i.e. who also may have needed ongoing state support had I continued as I was. I was also able to use the skills gained at the Henderson to train and work productively and to support my family (parents and younger siblings) as any daughter would, but I would never have been able to, had I not been to the Henderson.

It is interesting to note that as an ex patient I have never been contacted by anyone or asked what it did for me!

Before it is decided this invaluable service is just is not worth the money and is closed, perhaps the funders, Politicians, the Government and the NHS need to come and ask us directly - those who it has benefitted - what it actually did for us - the ex-patients - in terms of benefit to society and us not costing what it may have to support us and our families

Fran - Ex Resident

I was a resident at the Henderson for eight months, and being there quite simply kept me alive. I learnt to be patient with myself and others, instead of just thinking of myself as "a patient". This is part of learning to care for myself, to think of myself as a person worth saving, worth having hopes for the future, with something good in myself to give to others. I know that being at the Henderson has made a great and positive difference in the lives of many people I met there. It doesn't just save money, it saves lives. The Henderson provides an essential and dedicated service for people who have endured severe circumstances in their lives, and should receive funding to continue providing this service.

Fran Ex resident (2003-2004

Fiona – Ex-Resident

I was a resident at the Henderson from March 2004 to March ’05. Before I went I was desperate. I would self harm severely, every day. I was planning my suicide attempt and storing tablets to use and I was constantly swinging between anorexia and bulimia. I had no idea what was wrong with me and over the years had been treated for each individual symptom. Each time they would subside for a while, only for another behaviour to ravage my damaged body. I felt there was no future for me and I had no hope that things could ever change. My year at the Henderson was the hardest thing I have ever done and felt so painful and tentative. However as the months unfolded I began to learn who I was and what kind of life I wanted. I began to feel pride in myself and feel excited about the future. I realized that I wanted to live, even while I was still afraid. I now have a job I feel passionate about and I have learnt to share my life with others. I have learnt how to accept love and feel it in return, something I never believed possible. Without the Henderson I honestly do not think I would be here, writing this. Please keep it open so others can have the chance I didn’t believe I deserved but which saved my life.

Kath – Ex-Resident

I was a resident from September 2003 to 2004 and I can honestly say that year truly saved my life. In the years preceding my time at the Henderson, my life was characterized by several overdoses, repeated self harm and frequent hospitalization. Life seemed without hope and I felt a surging spiral of desperation that prior to going the Henderson could not be contained or treated.

The sums speak for themselves: in one year prior to the Henderson I was using acute services that cost approximately £150, 000 per year. In the two years since I left? £0. So the cost of my treatment at the Henderson paid for itself in less than one year and I continue to save my PCT a colossal amount of money. But do you know what is more valuable to me, is the fact I have a life worth living, where I had none. I have good friends around me who love and care for me, where once I had psychiatric nurses who watched so I didn’t kill myself. And thanks to the Henderson, I know who I am and feel proud to live and embrace each day with an ever-growing sense of independence rather than desperation.

Staff and Former Staff Talk About the Henderson

A former Director

Sent by Dennie Briggs, himself a former member of the Henderson team:

Requiem for Henderson Hospital by Maxwell Jones

In light of the scheduled closure of Henderson Hospital for January 4, 1980, Maxwell Jones was asked by the editor of MINDOUT to contribute an article. He described the origins of his work in developing therapeutic communities from wartime experiments with soldiers suffering from cardiac neurosis and with disturbed prisoners-of-war. These are excerpts written, November 19, 1979.

It was as a direct result of this experience that the Ministries of Health, Labour, and Pensions decided to open a unit for the chronic unemployed people in the London area. In April 1947, we started a 100 bed Industrial Neurosis Unit at Belmont Hospital, Sutton Surrey, for young adults of both sexes. This population proved to be composed largely of severe character disorders, most of whom came from broken homes. Our psychiatric training offered us no specific treatment modalities for this type of case, and from the start we realised the cultural gap between staff and most of the patients. The democraticizing effect of the previous years prepared us to listen to the patients and learn from them. Not knowing the culture they came from, they had to act as our interpreters. We freely admitted our limitations and asked for their help and not only in “treating” their problems, but in keeping discipline, respecting the rights of the middle class population surrounding us, and so on.

Our impact on the prison systems in the U.K., U.S.A., Europe and elsewhere has been enormous. From 1960 to 1964 I was a consultant to the California Correctional System which at that time established eleven therapeutic communities—and so with many mental hospitals. In fact most mental health programmes throughout the Western World claim to have therapeutic communities even though their ideas may be largely their own, with little relevance to established models!

Henderson brings enormous prestige to the U.K. from mental health workers, correctional workers, educators and thoughtful people everywhere. More importantly it offers a model of a truly democratic open system whose principles are applicable to social organizations of most, if not all, institutions. Thus it has tremendous possibilities and responsibilities in being a leader in the process of change and growth desperately urgent for our world’s survival. In addition there is the large responsibility that any humanistic society must acknowledge of virtually no learning (treatment) facilities for character disorders. Its expense, which is relatively minimal, must be matched against its importance internationally.

In conclusion, let me share my belief in therapeutic community principles which can do much to humanize hospitals, prisons, schools, churches, businesses, and family life generally.

Others' Experiences of the Henderson

Dr. Jan Birtle

I would like to draw people's attention to the strong reputation of the Henderson Hospital in providing treatment for people with severely disrupted personalities and associated difficulties in attaching in a positive way to services. The Henderson has led the way for may other services in working with this client group when the majority of services simply slammed the door, either shutting people out or locking them up, neither of which was therapeutic. It is because of the effective treatment approach that the Department of Health set up further services in Birmingham and Salford and together these services are now reaching many more people, through direct service delivery and training, which improves the quality of care and intervention people receive.

The final report of the National Severe Personality Disorder Service was published in August 2006 and describes how there need to be more specialised treatment units like Henderson, it also summarises the positive and measurable benefits many have gained from treatment there. In terms of quality it is often very difficult to assess this from the inside of a service (we are all human and therefore are liable to having some blind spots) but a independent review of practice was commissioned which was extremely positive about Henderson Hospital.

In general terms the quality of care and ways of monitoring this in the NHS have improved and all services now provide regular reports on clinical governance, including how they respond to service users who complain. In years gone by such issues would often have been very low on the agenda, but times have changed and service providers are keen to include feedback when they plan improvements to services. One way the Henderson is involved in this in a very proactive manner is through the Community of Communities Annual Reviews, in which current members of TCs visit other TCs to assess them and give feedback. Again, this helps to reduce the blind spots which arise from familiarity, when we see things every day they do not leap out at us, and leads on to planning changes and improvements. Importantly service users are given a strong voice in this process and indeed are taken very seriously.

So we are all trying to improve, in many areas of our work. Henderson has the added difficulty of being under threat through difficulties in the system of funding, this is entirely separate from the issues raised as quality of care and should not be confused with these. There is a major problem in how specialist services are funded in the NHS and it is in improving this that we need to focus our efforts and campaign for better use of tax payers money.

Dr Jan Birtle Director of Personality Disorder Service Clinical Director of Specialties Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health Trust Bridger House 22 Summer Road, Acocks Green, Birmingham, B27 7UT

Dr. Aldo Lombardo

Italian practitioners in this field look up to Henderson Hospital and regard it as a Teaching Community: Many would love to have a chance to acquire the 60 years old skills this place has developed in helping impossible and costly behavioural problems.

It is said that other treatment approaches are as effective as the Henderson's but, due to limitation of DSM IV diagnostic criteria, no research work seems to have taken the pain of matching the degree of severity of Henderson's patients with other service users with similar diagnostic labels, i.e. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). In fact, people with BPD exhibit different level of severity, posing a wide range of management problems to care givers.

I believe that in order to be absolutely sure that the Henderson approach is not any different from other treatments for BPD it is mandatory to ascertain that other treatment approaches are addressing the same degree of severity when treating BPD. For example, severely disturbed patients are particularly at risk during the night, and only a Hospital setting is appropriate. To underestimate these facts would turn Henderson closure into a disaster.

I do not expect any economist or politician to be able to judge the piece of golden therapeutic jewellery they are about to throw away with the dirty water. I do trust they rely on open-minded advisors quite aware of what Lord John Vaizey, a well known English economist, calls 'the toilet principle': If in a house the rate of profitability of every square metre is measured, the toilet area would be one of the least in value because it is used only 10 minutes a day. According to this well-consolidated economic principle toilets are not economic, and in the best interest of economic efficiency should be abolished.

The decision to close Henderson Hospital down because other approaches are reported to be cheaper feels as ominous as the idea of shutting Buckingham Palace down because other countries, say USA, Australia, with different State "approaches", cost less to tax payers.


Dr. Aldo Lombardo

Medical Director

'Raymond Gledhill' Therapeutic Community - Rome

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