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'My fight back to life after being tricked into hospital hell'

By This is Somerset  |  Posted: September 10, 2010

  • Joyce Passmore

  • SHINING LIGHT: Joyce Griffiths of Yeovil with her book which tells the story of 15 years she spent in a mental hospital. Picture by Laura Jones

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A YEOVIL woman has published the harrowing story of her life in the hands of mental health services including 15 years confined to a hospital which carried out controversial treatments.

In her book Joyce Passmore, 66, of Melrose Road, says she felt tricked into agreeing to be admitted to Tone Vale mental hospital near Taunton at the age of 13.

Miss Passmore said she was invited by her doctor in 1957 to go into hospital for three weeks to "sort out" her medication for childhood epilepsy, which had been causing up to five seizures a day.

She agreed without realising she was destined for a mental institution in which she would remain until 1972. While a patient she said she received electric shock treatment more than 300 times and on one occasion was given insulin to induce a coma.

The former pupil of Westfield Junior School and the former Summerlands Park School in Yeovil said: "Today I can visualise the grey metal box; the dial to determine the voltage of electricity you were to have and the red light to show it was turned on. I remember that attached to this machine were antique looking headphones. They differed from the headphones we might be used to, because of instead of ear pieces there were long flat metal strips with singed gauze on them. Those were placed on my head to administer the electric shock.

"I used to be so terrified of this treatment.

"I make no apology for saying that this archaic treatment should be permanently stopped. It is now 2010 and it is still being used, however it may be glossed up to look different."

Her book, The Light In My Mind, also documents violence by other patients and verbal abuse from staff.

"Some of the staff would deliberately provoke the patients to react aggressively and out would come the needle to inject them. I was surrounded by people who had just given in, hopeless and expressionless, totally crushed by the system."

She claims she suffered depression as a result of the asylum, which is now at the centre of a housing development near Taunton having closed its doors to patients in 1996.

Her book states: "Tone Vale delivered a life sentence.

"Even if I could remember the dreams I had as a child, those years in hospital determined a very different path for me.

"I know I am not alone in this as society shrinks from mental illness and treats you like an outsider.

"I am one of the few who was eventually freed."

At one point she likened conditions at the hospital, established in 1897, to a concentration camp.

She wrote: "The regime seemed to be one of punishment, not rehabilitation."

She said many of the children she shared a ward with when she was first admitted had disabilities or illnesses which would now be described as learning difficulties.

She left Tone Vale to go to a Christian rehabilitation centre in Kent at the age of 28, returning to her home town 15 years later. She continued to receive mental health care until the age of 60.

Miss Passmore described the time as "lost years" which she blames for her inability to have a career, marriage or children. But despite her ordeal, Miss Passmore says she does not harbour any bitterness.

Instead her book documents the triumph of the human spirit and religion, which Miss Passmore hopes will inspire others to find a way out of mental distress.

"I didn't want to be a pensioner and die in the mental health system," she said.

"I left the system at the age of 60 and I came alive then.

"My life has been wonderful since then."

Miss Passmore has spoken of her experiences at conferences and meetings around the county. The book has been published by mental health charity Speak Up Somerset.

Started in 1998 as a self-help group it publishes the Positive Steps Diary each year. The illustrated book, written by people who have experienced mental distress, is sold throughout the UK.

Miss Passmore is a trustee of the Speak Up Somerset, which has around 80 members.

Simon Heyes, development officer of the charity said: "The book is living testament that people can recover after being written off at an early age. Joyce is shining a light into mental health issues."

Chris Chambers, a social worker in Yeovil for more than 30 years, wrote the foreword for the book. He described Tone Vale as part of a "failed Victorian experiment".

He said: "The care that some of the staff gave was very questionable.

"Joyce's experiences were real. Staff and doctors probably didn't realise how bad they were and how bad they were treating patients.

"When I visited Tone Vale even for a few hours I could feel the institution taking over me and the outside world becoming more unreal. I could sense that staff and patients that were there quickly became institutionalised.

"I think staff behaved in a way which was often inappropriate but they didn't see it as such. They couldn't measure it against the outside world.

"There has been progress but we still have to be careful about staff not becoming institutionalised."

The book will be launched at 7pm on October 29 at Yeovil Community Church, at the Gateway Centre, Addlewell Lane, Yeovil.

The book is already on sale at the Gateway Centre.

Proceeds from sales will be donated to a charity for disadvantaged children, Kids Alive International.

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    Marie, Salford  |  September 16 2010, 5:42PM

    I can tell you that everything Joyce has said IS THE TRUTH. I too was a patient at the same time as Joyce but I was in the Merryfield Unit which is where Joyce was attmitted too under false pretences at the age of 12, The only difference was I was only there less than a year and only allowed home on condition I went to Penn House. I saw a lot that I shouldn't have but being small for my age I could hide in places without being seen and I still remember my time there. I am now 57 yrs of age. I too am a born again Christian and only my faith keeps me going. I will be at Joyce's book Launch even through I live up North.

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    Very concerned, UK  |  September 10 2010, 11:30AM

    "She said many of the children she shared a ward with when she was first admitted had disabilities or illnesses which would now be described as learning difficulties." People should be made aware that there has always been a clear separation between 'Mental Illness' and what used to be described as 'Mental Subnormality', and there were different hospitals for each. . There was obviously always an occasional overlap. . The need to monitor the calibre of staff has always been paramount, as in any caring profession or public service occupation. There are many who would now argue that the 'care in the community', so much proffered as the solution to care, has been a total disaster for large numbers of people, and has lead to many of the high profile cases of people harming themselves or others in recent years.

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