St Hans was founded in 1816, and is Denmark’s oldest psychiatric hospital. The grounds are pleasant, with local tourist information indicating they remain a popular place for Roskilde’s residents to take a stroll.The hospital, we learned, was once occupied by 2,000 inpatients. Around 200 beds remain and parts of the site are apparently scheduled for selling off; as in the UK, most mental health care in Denmark is now provided in the community. In the hospital’s museum we saw artwork, and exhibits which included a straitjacket and a restraining chair. How times and practices have changed. Changing subject at pace, here for anyone interested is a non-mental health related picture from Roskilde Ship Museum. The longboat is one of five ships deliberately scuttled, in the 11th century, in Roskilde Fjord (near a place called Skuldelev) to form a defence against attack. All five were found in the early 1960s, and came to be housed in the purpose-built museum we visited. Modern Danes enjoy a high standard of living, invest in welfare and are amongst the happiest people in the world. They also do living history better than most, and at both the Ship Museum and the Ribe Viking Centre there was plenty of 8th-11th century skill and craftwork on display.
But how, I now ask, did the Vikings experience, recognise and respond to mental ill-health? A niche area of research indeed, for which a quick scan online turns up this paper. Alas, it sits behind a publisher’s paywall and is in a journal I cannot access through Cardiff University’s library subscriptions.
Now back at work, a busy few months beckon with ongoing research projects, new projects to develop and students to teach, supervise and assess as the 2015-16 academic year unfolds. I’ll hope to get back up to speed with this blog site as things progress.Follow @benhannigan