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Using qualitative data to explore relationships, behaviours, job practices and history of mental health nursing

Type of case study: Research


Research ideas using qualitative data

There is an increasing interest in the use and re-use of qualitative data in the health care field. The richness of the material allows deeper interpretation of findings from broader and more variable perspectives. This type of material is particularly useful in exploring the often unseen aspects of health care provision, such as: working relationships, professional behaviours, changing views of illness and many more.

SN 4890 Severalls Hospital: Interviews for ‘Madness in its Place’, 1913-1997

nursesAlthough qualitative data come in many shapes and forms, we predominantly deal with transcripts of in-depth interviews and focus groups as well as (if less so) with sound and image. A valuable and classic study in the health care field is Diana Gittins’ work on Severalls Hospital covering one of the largest asylums in the country. The memories and narratives of patients and workers who lived in, or were employed by, Severalls Psychiatric Hospital provide a personal account of day-to-day life, contextualised both in relation to wider developments and issues in twentieth century mental health, and in relation to policies and changes in the hospital itself. This study is based on the life stories of patients and workers at a large psychiatric hospital in Essex and presents a social and professional history of British psychiatric care in the twentieth century.

Overall, the material covers some of the following areas:

  • patient care through the hospital’s history
  • the development of psychiatric nursing
  • different approaches to residential care
  • social exclusion and social services
  • long-term care for the elderly
  • living conditions and mental health

A booklet produced to mark the hospital’s closure in 1997 featuring many contemporary and historical photographs is included. In addition, a number of detailed plans of the estate have also been digitised. The latter have been scanned at high resolution to allow detailed study.

Finding the data

The study Severalls Hospital: Interviews for ‘Madness in its Place’ can be found via Discover, our search and browse application, using any of the following keywords: Severalls, nursing, “mental health”, patients, institutions, “community health services” and other related terms.

The Data Catalogue record provides a comprehensive overview of the study, including abstract, sample details and types of methodology used.

Before moving on, users can take advantage of specially prepared documentation to familiarise themselves further with the archived material. Study-related documentation can be accessed by scrolling to the bottom of the catalogue record.

In the documentation section, users can have a closer look at key characteristics of the study such as interviews and image lists, which briefly outline the key characteristics of the collected interviews (subject’s age, occupation, geographic location, date of interview) and of the archived images (description, type, file format) respectively.

More importantly, users can access a specially prepared user guide which provides a comprehensive view on how the study was prepared and then carried out, including some previously unpublished interviews from the principal researchers. This 160-page document is in searchable, PDF format which makes it easier to browse for any sections of interest.

Catalogue record for Severalls Hospital: Interviews for 'Madness in its Place',

Reviewing the above catalogue record and documentation should give users a fairly complete overview of the available material as well as offer a thorough picture of the context in which the study took place.

Using the data


This study’s original interview and photographic material can be easily accessed and downloaded online in PDF and JPG format respectively. Data can be downloaded by clicking on the ‘Download/Order’ tab within the catalogue record.

To the right are some examples of data from Severalls Hospital: Interviews for ‘Madness in its Place’ as seen by the user including a copy of an interview transcript, a photograph of nurses’ training, and a copy of a map of the asylum.