Self-Harm Becomes Epidemic: Mental Health (1959) and Suicide (1961) Acts

  • Chris Millard
Open Access
Part of the Mental Health in Historical Perspective book series (MHHP)


At the end of Stengel’s 1952 paper, ‘Enquiries into attempted suicide’, he speculates about the potential scale of this behaviour:

[I]f the appeal character is such an important feature of the suicidal attempt as we have made it out to be, is there not a likelihood that this powerful and dangerous appeal will be used more and more, especially in a society which has made every individual’s welfare its collective responsibility? I think that this danger can easily be overestimated. ‘Attempted suicide’ is a behaviour pattern which is at the disposal of only a limited group of personalities.1


Attempted Suicide General Medicine District General Hospital Hospital Authority British Medical Association 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. 1.
    E. Stengel, ‘Enquiries into Attempted Suicide (Abridged)’ Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 45 (1952): 620Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    R. Jack, Women and Attempted Suicide London, Lawrence Erlbaum (1992): xiiGoogle Scholar
  3. 4.
    H. Matthew, ‘Poisoning in the Home by Medicaments’ British Medical Journal 2, 5517 (1966): 788CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 5.
    C. Millard and S. Wessely, ‘Parity of Esteem Between Physical and Mental Health’ British Medical Journal 349, 7894 (2014): 6821;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. P. Border and Chris Millard, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology ‘Parity of Esteem in Mental Health’ (2015) online at: accessed 30 January 2015Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    K. Robinson, ‘The Public and Mental Health’ in Trends in the Mental Health Services H.L. Freeman and W.A.J. Farndale (eds) Oxford, Pergamon (1963): 16Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    A.T. Scull, Decarceration: Community Treatment and the Deviant: A Radical View London, Prentice-Hall (1977)Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    H. Lester and J. Glasby, Mental Health Policy and Practice Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan (2006): 27Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    This starts early: R.M. Titmuss, ‘Community Care: Fact or Fiction?’ in Commitment to Welfare R.M. Titmuss (ed.) London: George Allen & Unwin, ([1961] 1968): 221–5; see alsoGoogle Scholar
  10. H.R. Rollin, ‘Social and Legal Repercussions of the Mental Health Act, 1959’ British Medical Journal 1, 5333 (1963): 788.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 10.
    A. Rogers and D. Pilgrim, Mental Health Policy in Britain 2nd ed. London, Macmillan (2001): 55, 65. Recent examples of ‘institution-community’ binaries includeGoogle Scholar
  12. M. Gorsky, ‘The British National Health Service 1948–2008: A Review of the Historiography’ Social History of Medicine 21(3) (2008): 449; Lester and Glasby, Mental Health Policy and Practice: 27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 12.
    G. Eghigian, ‘Deinstitutionalizing the History of Contemporary Psychiatry’ History of Psychiatry 22(2) (2011): 203, emphasis in the original.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 13.
    For an apt historiographical summary, see J. Welshman, ‘Rhetoric and Reality: Community Care in England and Wales, 1948–74’ in Outside the Walls of the Asylum: The History of Care in the Community 1750–2000 P. Bartlett and D. Wright (eds) London: Athlone Press (1999): 205. This covers the contributions of Kathleen Jones, Andrew Scull, Peter Sedgwick and Joan Busfield.Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    C. Webster, ‘Psychiatry and the Early National Health Service: The Role of the Mental Health Standing Advisory Committee’ in 150 Years of British Psychiatry, 1841–1991 H. Freeman and G. E. Berrios (eds) London, Gaskell (1991): 104Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    B. Wootton, Social Science and Social Pathology London, George Allen & Unwin (1959): 208–9Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    D. Stafford-Clark, ‘Attempted Suicide’ Lancet 281, 7278 (1963): 448–9. Two of the other participants in this correspondence argument are Neil Kessel and Richard Asher, and the correspondence was initially sparked by an Erwin Stengel article.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 19.
    N. Kessel, ‘Self-Poisoning — Part II’ British Medical Journal 2, 5474 (1965): 1340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 20.
    G.D. Middleton, D.W. Ashby and F. Clark, ‘An Analysis of Attempted Suicide in an Urban Industrial District’ Practitioner 187 (1961): 776–82;Google Scholar
  20. M. Woodside, ‘Attempted Suicides Arriving at a General Hospital’ British Medical Journal 2, 5093 (1958): 411–4;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. J.J. Fleminger and B.L. Mallett, ‘Psychiatric Referrals from Medical and Surgical Wards’ British Journal of Psychiatry 108 (1962): 183–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 21.
    J.E. Lennard-Jones and R.A.J. Asher, ‘Why Do They Do It? A Study of Pseudocide’ Lancet 1, 7083 (1959): 1138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 24.
    M. Jarvis, Conservative Governments, Morality and Social Change in Affluent Britain, 1957–64 Manchester, Manchester University Press (2005): 6Google Scholar
  24. 25.
    Baron Wolfenden of Westcott, Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution London, HMSO (1957)Google Scholar
  25. 26.
    P. Hennessy, Having It So Good: Britain in the Fifties London, Allen Lane (2006): 505–6Google Scholar
  26. 36.
    British Medical Association Committee on Psychiatry and the Law, ‘The Law Relating to Attempted Suicide’ British Medical Journal Supplement 2210, 5406 (1947): S.103. One of the arguments advanced by a Church of England booklet (see below) is similar: ‘The punishment of the offender is not likely to deter others from attempting to commit suicide, if only because they will be confident of success.’Google Scholar
  27. Church Information Office, Ought Suicide to Be a Crime? A Discussion on Suicide, Attempted Suicide and the Law Westminster, Church Information Office (1959): 10. Note the use of ‘would-be suicide’ in a context that implies earnest, uncomplicated intent.Google Scholar
  28. 37.
    G.L. Williams, The Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law: On Contraception, Sterilization, Artificial Insemination, Abortion, Suicide and Euthanasia London, Faber & Faber (1958): 250, 253; quotingGoogle Scholar
  29. W.L. Neustatter, Psychological Disorder and Crime London, Christopher Johnson (1953): 68Google Scholar
  30. 46.
    J. Fry, Casualty Services and Their Setting: A Study in Medical Care Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust (1960);Google Scholar
  31. Ministry of Health, ‘Accident and Emergency Services: Report of a Sub-Committee (Platt Report)’ London, HMSO (1962)Google Scholar
  32. 53.
    E. Stengel, ‘Attempted Suicide: Its Management in the General Hospital’ Lancet 1, 7275 (1963): 233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 57.
    E. Stengel ‘The National Health Service and the Suicide Problem’ in Sociological Review Monograph No. 5: Sociology and Medicine: Studies within the Framework of the British National Health Service P. Halmos (ed.) Keele: University of Keele (1962): 205Google Scholar
  34. 73.
    W.M. Millar, G. Innes and G.A. Sharp, ‘Hospital and Outpatient Clinics: The Design of a Reporting System and the Difficulties to Be Expected in the Execution’ in The Burden on the Community: The Epidemiology of Mental Illness A Symposium (1962): 2Google Scholar
  35. 74.
    P. Sainsbury and J. Grad, ‘Evaluation of Treatment and Services’ in The Burden on the Community: The Epidemiology of Mental Illness: A Symposium (1962) appendix I, unnumbered pageGoogle Scholar
  36. 76.
    I. Hacking, Rewriting the Soul Princeton, Princeton University Press (1995): 236Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Chris Millard 2015

Open Access This Chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chris Millard
    • 1
  1. 1.Queen MaryUniversity of LondonUK

Personalised recommendations