Why the change to mixed sex psychiatric wards in the 1960’s



When and why did we change

from female only psychiatric wards to mixed sex psychiatric wards?

During the 1960's in Melbourne Cunningham Dax was at the forefront of progressive changes to the psychiatric sector. Sue Armstrong asked him why they changed to mixed-sex psychiatric wards.


He said it was largely justified on the

basis they thought that the females would civilize the males.


 Also, an older woman who later in her career was one of the original community visitors came up to Sue Armstrong at a function. Knowing

Sue was advocating for the reinstatement of female only psychiatric wards she said to Sue, she was one of those involved in the change

and that she was so SORRY for putting female consumers at such risk.  That the change to mixed-sex psychiatric wards had meant females

with mental illness issues had and still do suffer unacceptable abuse,

at the hands of males.


  In page V of the preface to "The Patient Majority...", Valerie Gerrand wrote: “Obviously the monograph draws extensively on relevant research, available statistical data, reports on service initiatives and policy documents. It is also influenced by my experiences as a practitioner, researcher and manager in the mental health field, not all of which I remember with pride." (my emphasis)

"For example, I was one of those who accepted the move to integrate

wards in psychiatric hospitals in the late 1960’s. This change was largely justified on the grounds that it would improve the social behaviour of

the male patients, but was one which exposed the female patients to a much greater risk of sexual harassment and exploitation, let alone the usual difficulties women face in having their needs recognized in mixed sex environments.”

Source: Gerrand, Valerie, et al. The Patient Majority: Mental Health Policy and Services for Women. Geelong, Vic., Centre For Applied Social Research, Deakin University With The Assistance Of The Victorian Council Of The Royal Institute Of Public Administration Australia, 1993. ISBN 0730020371

Scan available at http://www.impatient.org.au/the-patient-majority

It seems ridiculous and unreasonable to expect mentally ill females

who are in a psychotic state to somehow be responsible for the social appropriateness and behaviour of aggressive psychotic men. Why

should females be expected to be responsible for males’ behaviour and well-being? We have enough problems of our own to deal with when ill.


Sue E. Armstrong.