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Ireland's Grangegorman Lunatic Asylum, 1854. Photo by: Wikimedia Commons

Government urged to investigate 33,000 deaths in Irish psychiatric units

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Ireland's Grangegorman Lunatic Asylum, 1854. Photo by: Wikimedia Commons

Campaigners have called on the Irish government to extend the inquiry into mother and baby homes to the country’s mental institutions.

The Irish Times reports on their demand that the government inquiry into mother and baby homes be widened to include mental hospitals.

Campaigners say such an investigation will uncover further controversy over high death rates, unmarked graves and allegations of patient mistreatment.

They say that 33,000 patients died in overcrowded and disease-ridden mental homes between the late 1920s and the 1960s, with death rates significantly higher than in the general community.

The paper adds that the Irish state also had the highest rate of admissions to mental hospitals recorded anywhere in the world at the time.

This peaked in the late 1950s when more than 20,000 people were resident in these institutions.

The group Mind Freedom Ireland, which campaigns for the rights of psychiatric patients, told the paper that the proposed inquiry should examine the role of mental hospitals in wrongfully detaining healthy individuals.

A statement from the group said: “The inquiry should include the sub-human treatment of people in psychiatric institutions including involuntary detention, seclusion, four-point restraint and forced treatment including the administration of electroshock against a person’s will.”

Dr Eoin O’Sullivan, as associate professor in social policy at Trinity College Dublin, has backed their call.

He told the Irish Times that there is merit in examining what happened in psychiatric hospitals, given the role they played as part of Ireland’s system of ‘coercive confinement.’

“There is a need to look at the wide range of other institutions which operated to confine and regulate unwanted people,” said Dr O’Sullivan.

He added that many patients did not have a mental illness, but ended up in social dumping grounds for those who did not ‘fit in’, often due to disability, addiction or tension within families.

Prof Brendan Kelly, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at University College Dublin, added that it is important to note key differences between the way mental hospitals and mother and baby homes were run.

He said there were annual State inspections of the psychiatric system, with reports made publicly available, while many of the old hospitals were well integrated into the community.

Prof Kelly also said it is important to bear in mind the historical context in which care decisions took place.

He said that in many cases families opted not to take patients home because they could not care for a mentally ill or disabled person in their home.

He added: “That is not to say these people should have been institutionalised for as long as they were or at all but sometimes the only option the state offered was custodial care.”

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