Thoughts on ‘Broadmoor: Part One’

For those not in the UK, Broadmoor is a high security psychiatric hospital. It has a sinister reputation and is well-known for not allowing cameras behind its doors. No-one really knows what happens in there, it seems to retain an imposing reputation as a place where people go and never return.

Tonight the first of a two-part documentary series on the hospital, entitled ‘Broadmoor’, was shown on ITV. These are my thoughts on the issues raised in the programme.

It’s very odd to watch, Broadmoor seems to straddle a line between being a prison and a hospital- never quite committing to either role. Personally I found it a little jarring having to remind myself that the people shown were patients… and then five minutes later having to remind myself that the people shown were prisoners…

Something that, sadly, didn’t surprise me was the amount of references to self harm, I think self harm is a problem that appears often both on psych wards and in prisons. When you take away control from people they react by giving themselves control over something else. The programme showed items that the prisoners (patients?) had managed to make into weapons- something that anyone with a history of self harm will be able to identify with.

Another point that was brought up was whether the prisoners were perpetrators or victims. On one hand they were clearly all in there for a reason, they’d committed crimes- generally of a violent or sexual nature- but on the other they all seemed to be victims of crime. If people hadn’t raped or assaulted or abused or neglected them, they probably wouldn’t have committed the crimes that they did. It’s very tempting to feel desperately sorry for them… but at the end of the day the cycle of violence and hurt has to be broken somehow.

Food was another key aspect to life in Broadmoor. It seems that food is one of the few freedoms that these patients (prisoners?) have, and combined with medication it generally leads to weight problems in most of the prisoners. I can understand completely where the feelings of food being linked to freedom come from. A lot of people develop unhealthy eating habits because they revel in having control over something. As well as that, comfort eating is a tactic that I’m sure we’ve all engaged in at some point in our lives.

A point that I’ve also toyed gently with on here is the idea of psychotic disorders and whether someone suffering from them can make decisions about their own life. At the end of the day, our realities are all different- but I think that they operate on the same plane. Those who suffer from psychotic disorders have a different plane. It’s a subject that makes me uncomfortable, I don’t know when I’m happy to draw the line and say that someone can’t make decisions about their life. I’m someone who is highly spiritual but also who has a history of delusions and hallucinations. Can I be trusted to make sensible ‘normal’ decision about my life?

Putting someone in Broadmoor is both expensive and time-consuming. Whilst these people can be treated and recover it does take a long time. Mental health problems can’t be cured by medication, they can be helped along a great deal, but therapy and care is needed in order to get someone back on their feet properly. It takes time. We live in a society that loves quick fixes; whilst mental illnesses do get better, it can take years.

One thing that struck me about the programme is that all of the prisoners (patients?) faces were blurred. They couldn’t give consent to be filmed themselves because they were not deemed mentally stable enough. This gives the whole documentary a slightly unnerving edge to it.

Finally I want to mention the professionalism of the staff, it could be the way that the documentary was shot, but personally I think that they seemed to do a brilliant job. They remained calm and professional throughout, I don’t know that I could do what they do, and so I have the upmost respect for them.

’til next time,

Wren x

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