Professor Strom-Olsen

Professor Strom-Olsen was merely 32 years old when he was appointed Superintendent of the Runwell Hospital in 1937. At the time, the role was not only prestigious, but also carried a great deal of administrative power. Olsen was fully in charge of the hospital and in a position to make and carry out decisions that had an impact on the entire institution.

Despite his young age, it was the doctor’s first aim to create a nurturing environment for the treatment of patients and to encourage a proactive and advanced research approach. Following these cardinal principals, one of the first things Professor Olsen did, was to change how the different wards were listed. Up to that point, wards had been simply identified with numbers, but Olsen renamed each ward with a word taken from the areas that surrounded the hospital, a step probably taken to replace a sterile atmosphere with a more welcoming and intimate one.

Another first order of business was the Superintendent’s increase of research laboratories, which would become one the hospital’s trademarks. Unfortunately, shortly after the hospital was up and running, World War II began. Although Dr. Olsen, like many other psychiatrists, was initially called to arms, his draft was revoked and he remained at Runwell Hospital throughout the war period, witnessing the bomb blitz that all East London was subjected to during this period. It was only after the end of the war that Runwell was able to return to its more usual functions. By the end of the 1940s, Professor Olsen was able to include into his research team some of the best and most pioneering minds in the mental health research field.

When Professor Corsellis joined the Runwell team in 1950, it was thanks to Professor Olsen’s mentoring and encouragement that he began his brain collection. During the 30 years that Olsen was Superintendent of the Runwell Hospital, he was responsible for the overall monitoring of all the research carried out in Runwell. The picture we were able to capture of John Strom-Olsen was one of a caring man who, as his daughter described him, had problems saying no to people but, one who was also a serious and devoted doctor, acutely aware of the implications of his job. Olsen strongly opposed the then ministry of Health, Enoch Powell’s idea of shutting down mental health institutions, claiming that there were no other facilities in which patients could receive better medical attention than in mental health institutions.

After his retirement in 1964, a new wing of the Runwell Hospital was named after him, demonstrating the legacy the psychiatrist had left and paying homage to the work he had carried out in Runwell for almost 30 years.

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