Learning Zone - Mental Health Records in Scotland
Mental Health Institutions in Scotland
There have been many Mental Health Institutions in Scotland, some small, some large. Many closed decades ago, but some remain open.
We have begun a project to trace the history of each, locate the buildings on old maps and trace any surviving patient records. We are creating a dedicated page for each institution in the Mental Health Institutions in Scotland section of our site. So far we have details of 93 Scottish asylums or mental health hospitals. As we index the ‘General Register of Lunatics in Asylums’ this will provide the information you need to find your ancestor's patient records in archives around Scotland.
The ‘General Register of Lunatics in Asylums’ begins in 1858. The register begins by listing all those individuals already in Scottish asylums on 1 January 1858 and then continues with all those admitted from that date until 1978. The National Records of Scotland reference these records MC7/1-38.
There are more detailed records of all persons admitted to a Scottish asylum from 1 January 1858 to 1962. These can be found in the National Records of Scotland (NRS) and are entitled ‘Notices of Admissions by the Superintendent of the Mental Institutions’. The National Records of Scotland reference these records MC2/1-1239.
There is a 100-year closure period on most mental health records in Scotland. MC7/12 is the last volume from the ‘General Register’ recorded as being ‘open’ with regard to access in the NRS catalogue. Please consult the NRS if you wish to see a more recent volume.
Local Records and Mental Health Records pre-1858
The survival rate of records in local archives and those before 1858 varies greatly. Some pre-1858 material can be found in the records of the relevant Sheriff Court, which are almost all held at the NRS. Records of individual institutions are often held in local archives, and we would suggest talking with the local archivist to see what records may be held. Click here to find further information on most Scottish mental health institutions, including the whereabourts of surviving records, if known. We would recommend, though, starting with the ‘General Register’ discussed here as it is relatively straightforward to consult and it will provide the dates of the patient’s admission and discharge, which will be very helpful when consulting local records.
‘General Register of Lunatics in Asylums’
The ‘General Register of Lunatics in Asylums’ is certainly not a name such a volume would be given today. These are historic records and the way they are named reflect the terminology current at the time. The volumes are large, and contain a brief record of many thousands of people. We are very grateful to the National Records of Scotland who have granted us permission to show you an example page from the register. This page is from MC7/1 (click on the image to enlarge).
The columns are as follows: Number in Order of Admission; Name; Private/Pauper and Male/Female; Date of Admission; Asylum; Date of Discharge or Death; Discharges: Recovered/Relieved/Not Improved/Incurable; Place to which removed; Died; Pauper Register: Vol. Folio; Observations
The patient number is the same number as that recorded in the ‘Notices of Admissions’, and it generally stayed with a patient during any later re-admissions or transfers.
‘Notices of Admissions by the Superintendent of the Mental Institutions’
This is arguably the most interesting record relating to people with mental health problems that you will find in the National Records of Scotland. The reason we would make this statement is that as well as giving detailed information about the patient, it gives such information as the ‘Supposed Cause’ of their illness, observations of the patient by two physicians, and accounts regarding the patient that the physician was told by people who knew the individual concerned.
Some of these records can be difficult to read, but perseverance is worthwhile for the insights they give. Frequently, cases can be seen where the death of a child or another family member seems to have resulted in severe depression. There are also cases which look like post-natal depression to the modern reader. While it is sad to read about these case where so little was understood about the patient’s illness, it can be comforting to discover that many of our ancestors did recovered and were able to return home to their families. If you have come across a record in the census that an ancestor was insane or an ‘inmate’ in an asylum, it may be well worthwhile to locate and read these forms to find out more about the patient.
The example shown below is for Rose Ann Davis, who was admitted to Abbey Parish Lunatic Asylum, Paisley in December 1861, and remained there until she died in June 1863. The record has the National Record of Scotland reference MC2/47 (click on the images to enlarge).
Our Indexing Project
Our ancestors who suffered from mental illness were often misunderstood and shut away from society. We believe it is time to bring these records into plain sight so that we can understand our past; this can help us now and in the future.
With the help of volunteers we are indexing mental health records held by the National Records of Scotland. This is a mammoth task, but an important one. If you can help by indexing please email us for details. If you are not able to volunteer could you donate just a small amount so that a genealogist can be paid to index these records? Any help you can give is appreciated by us and those from around the world who use this website.