Retail Therapy

Although some of our patients were too fragmented by their illnesses to be seriously interested in personalising their rooms, others took it to the opposite extreme by filling their personal space with shed loads of jumble, clothes, toys, pot plants, and entertainment systems. They were possibly the true products of modern community mental health care, because they had quickly become ‘empowered’ individual consumers, without being remotely interested in the other aspects of capitalist society; individual effort, competition, productivity and wealth creation. This was perfectly understandable, of course, because they were terminally de-motivated by receiving lifelong state benefits, and generally ill-equipped to compete in the open job market.
In effect, care in the community had completely distorted the patients lives by exposing them to an inappropriate and mystifying system, and by leaving them with little choice but to engage in self indulgent ‘retail therapy’, or to sink into a continuous vegetative state. One patient had literally filled their room from floor to ceiling with white elephants of one form or another, eventually needing a further room to store the excess, until fire regulations were employed to authorise a clear out. Within weeks the mountain was reappearing, and the patient was seen depositing a perfectly good hi fi system in a nearby skip, so that he had a ‘good reason’ to buy another. He invariably went shopping by taxi, and sometimes asked the drivers to collect items he had bought earlier, including on one occasion a stuffed moose head and a gigantic doll. These arrived at the unit during one of our official inspections, sat together on the back seat of the cab (total fare £9.50).


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