Friday, 12 April 2013


Bedlam, Lunatic, Mental illness, Psychiatry,
Bethlem Hospital, 1828


Adjective & noun. LME.
[Form of Bethlehem]

A (noun)
1 The town of Bethlehem in Judaea. obsolete. LME-E17.

2. The Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem (Bethlem Royal Hospital in London),
 used as an asylum for the insane. archaic. LME.

3. A person who was mentally ill; spec. a discharged but not fully cured patient of the
 Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem, licensed to beg. obsolete. E16-E18.

4. A lunatic asylum; a madhouse. archaic. M17.

5. (A scene of) mad confusion; a wild uproar. M17.

B (adjective)
Belonging to or fit for a madhouse; lunatic; foolish. L16.

The mistreatment, misunderstanding and prejudice against those with mental illness is a problem deeply rooted in society. However, things have come a long way and this is well illustrated by the word bedlam. It comes from The Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem, now called the Bethlem Royal Hospital, in London. With its origins as an insane asylum in the 14th century and operating today as a modern specialist hospital, it is Europe's oldest and most famous hospital specialising in mental health. While it now stands as a modern facility, fully representative of modern medicine and understanding of mental illness, its dark history is a stark reminder of the most horrific abuses suffered by those deemed to be insane. Problems continue today, of course; understanding of mental health is incomplete, systems of care are flawed and social stigma remains. But if the grueling transition of the Bethlem Royal Hospital is indicative of the direction that mental health care is travelling in - from a culture of abuse and punishment, confinement and coercion, to one of treatment and understanding, care and respite - then at least it is moving in the right direction. 

Further Information:


  1. I have been in psychiatric care. The staff there, who were excellent, all were of the opinion that mental healthcare had come on leaps and bounds in recent years, but that there is a long way to go. The biggest challenge seems to be overcoming stigma, amongst the public in general and among those who need help in particular.

    On a distantly related topic, I have just had to ask the girl in the deli, for at least the twentieth time, if she could actually wrap my wrap. If I had wanted a 'fold' or a ' coleslaw-and-chicken-over-trouser-distribution device' I would have asked for one, smiling.

    Why does she see the need to deprive herself of an appreciative smile and me of a stain-free lunch?

    oh dear, it's happening again....

    But in all genuine seriousness, being able to smile about a serious problem is very important I believe, and thank you very much for today's post.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it. As for you faux wrap, could a fold be a new thing? I remember my first calzone - and my prejudicial thoughts of "So it's a folded pizza and you give it a fancy name? Big deal." I've been a big calzone aficionado ever since. Maybe not enough foods are folded. Maybe this girl is a culinary trail-blazer. A little bit like the story of how crisps were invented. My word - it's nearly 2am. I ramble when I'm tired (I ramble anyway). Thanks for reading : o )