These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. “Nuff time passes, you get so you depend on ’em. That’s institutionalized. “Red” The Shawshank Redemption

An opinion about institutionalisation from Tracy Hammond


At LDE we have been discussing institutionalisation and what it really means.

Internet searches throw up a heady mix of everything from lobotomies to dormitories, with religion and politics mixed in for good measure.  It’s little wonder it’s such an emotive subject.

However, commentators agree that a loss of freedom and personal responsibility, lead to symptoms of institutionalisation and an inability to cope with everyday life

We know the history of institutions and it is easy to conjure images of sterile and secluded settings, surrounded by a patchwork of fields. But what does it mean in the 21st century and in a context where independence and personalisation are rightly recognised to be so important?

For me isolation is a huge indicator of institutionalisation.  However, people can live on a remote island or in a small community without being institutionalised, and so this can’t be the whole story.  It is also the loss of control, the feeling that one must fit in with a regime, with rules or way of being, and as ‘Red’ says, it is the creation of dependency.

A while ago, there was a sketch called Friendly Phrases from the comedy duo Mitchell & Webb.  The thrust was that they were creating really terrible straplines.  Terrible because they were so obvious.  In the sketch, there was a sign on the wall.  This read – Wall: separating this room from that.  In my mind over the years, this had morphed to ‘Wall: keeping the outside out’, but surely both would be pertinent.  The issue perhaps though isn’t the wall per se, it is about choice and control.  A wall can be a safeguard, a provider of warmth and home, or it can be a prison, a method of control, and an imposed separation or boundary.

Although it now appears to have moved on to chocolate and Nietzsche, in a previous iteration, if one asked Siri the meaning of life, it often replied that it is not qualified to answer that question.  And that is how I feel about defining institutionalization from afar.  Control and coercion can happen in apparently ideal locations, and great workers can support freedom and independence in less than ideal circumstances.

In his work entitled The Keys to Citizenship, Simon Duffey discusses true citizenship, he says, ‘Citizenship is a funny word – and it can have several meanings – but it is a useful word, because it can be used to describe how human beings can live together – with justice and mutual respect. Citizenship means:

Being respected – being able to hold your head up high and getting respect from those around you

Being equal – citizens all have the same fundamental worth or dignity, they don’t believe that just because someone has more money, power or a better-paid job that this makes them a better person

Being different – citizens are not identical, they have many different gifts which they bring together to build a better world.’

At LDE it is massively important to us that we get things right, and we need to generate discussion about what right looks like in an imperfect world.

Following Carol Povey’s response to the Mendip House safeguarding report which we published in February, we were contacted by a father who believes passionately that we, as a sector, need to learn from the nursing and medical professions.  LDE is certainly up for some inclusive and well facilitated conversation about how we come together to ensure people remain free from abuse whilst enjoying the life they choose and we hope to get something going very soon.

Watch this space for more details…