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LOCKED UP AND GIVEN ELECTRIC SHOCKS; Gwyn endured harrowing treatment in hospital just because he had learning difficulties.

Byline: PHILIP DEWEY Reporter philip.dewey@walesonline.co.uk

WYN DAVID is a lovable character who lives in the South Wales Valleys.

GThose who know him are unable to suppress a smile when confronted with his lovably cheeky personality. But now aged 70 it is incredible to learn of the damaged shell of a man he was reduced to as the resident of a mental institution, at a time when people with disabilities similar to Gwyn's were hidden away from the world.

For 20 years, from the age of 19, he was effectively a prisoner and subjected to electric shock therapy from people who did not understand his disabilities. As a resident of mental institution Hensol Hospital he was kept under lock and key.

Located in the rural Vale of Glamorgan village of Pendoylan, Hensol Hospital was filled with people with learning difficulties who were effectively hidden away from society.

This method of looking after patients with conditions varying from Down's syndrome to autism was fairly common across the UK until the 1980s when a more humane approach was adopted.

Born and raised in Gilfach Goch, near Porth, he was part of a loving family which included his mum Polly, his miner dad Gwilym and sister Megan. But after the death of his mum, Gwyn's family were unable to look after him and had no option but to agree to him being looked after by professionals.

He had moderate learning difficulties and a condition called hemiplegia, a paralysis affecting one side of the body.

Gwyn said: "I was frightened when I went there.

"I had no friends there and it was lonely, they drugged me up and kept me in a dark room. I didn't like it there.

"I kept saying I wanted to go home."

Patients were kept to a regimental routine and were told when to eat, sleep and when they could or couldn't do something. They were not allowed to keep their own money and would have to wear the same clothes every day.

Gwyn was not given an education and was unable to read or write.

One of the most traumatic aspects was having to experience regular doses of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

When Gwyn was a resident of Hensol, ECT was generally used without anaesthetic and was given without consent, with many experiencing it as more of a punishment than a treatment.

He said: "They would take you to a big room, put the lights up and pull a switch. It was like the electric chair in America.

"I'd go in there and they'd tell me to take a deep breath and pull the switch.

"I used to be locked in a ward and had a needle stuck in me. I was so drugged up."

Gwyn left Hensol Hospital when he was in his late forties and returned to Gilfach Goch, where he lived in his own house with other residents from Hensol. On the day he left, Gwyn remembers he was shaking and "felt free".

He began attending day centres in the Valleys, including Tonyrefail day centre, and was initially described as sitting in a corner and being quiet.

But as the years progressed, Gwyn came out of his shell.

He is now a fixture at Gilfach Goch Day Centre, which he attends four times a week, and started attending adult learning classes. He is now able to recognise letters and write his own name. Gwyn's achievements were awarded this month at the Inspire! Awards where he was given the Ageing Well award during a ceremony in Cardiff.

He said: "Learning has given me confidence, and a voice. I didn't used to have one. Now I'm being heard."

Meanwhile, Hensol Hospital closed in 2003 and some of the former hospital buildings have since been converted into apartments.

CAPTION(S):

Gwyn David at Gilfach Goch Day Centre with Eleanor Clift, left, day times opportunities officer with Treforest Learning Curve, and support worker Sarah Salter

Gwyn David was a resident at Hensol Hospital for more than two decades PICTURES: ROBERT MELEN
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 30, 2019
Words:674
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