Oral histories of disability and personal and mental health

Speaking for ourselves. Image courtesy of Scope

Our oral history collections chart the experiences of those with disabilities, ill-health and mental health issues.

About the collection

The British Library has an active policy to make sure that the views and memories of people of every background, culture and occupation are represented. We hold a number of collections and have taken part in collaborative projects that help to chart the experiences of those, both old and young, with disabilities, ill-health or with mental health issues. These collections are in addition to our oral histories of medicine and health professionals and medical science.

What is available online?


  • Diabetes Stories includes all of the recordings from An Oral History of Diabetes, a collection of 51 life-story interviews with people diagnosed with diabetes between 1927 and 1997. It was recorded for the Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism, and funded by the Wellcome Trust.
  • The Listening Project is an audio archive recorded by the BBC of one-to-one conversations between friends and relatives. It includes the topic of health.



What is available in our Reading Rooms?


  • The Life Testimony and Health Promotion Project (HEA/UEL) was a joint project between the University of London and the Health Education Authority which sought to address gaps in existing knowledge about health beliefs and highlight the value of personal testimony as an evidence base for health promotion. It focuses on three priority groups: homeless, refugees, and children and 'looked after' children (also known as children 'in care').


Mental Health

  • The Mental Health Testimony Archive  (a collaborative project with Mental Health Media - now a part of MIND) holds 50 life story video interviews with mental health service users, including those who lived in the psychiatric asylums (long-stay patients), as well as 'revolving door' patients and those with a mental illness diagnosis in the second half of the twentieth century in England and Wales. The interviewers had themselves experienced mental health problems.
  • A Fit Person to be Removed includes 17 personal accounts of life in a 'Mental Deficiency Institution' (Meanwood Park Hospital, Leeds) from long-term residents. Many had been incarcerated under the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act. Interviewees speak out about their ways of coping with the effects of institutional life and, for some, coming to terms with rejoining the wider community as a result of changing mental health and 'community car' practices.


How to guides

Search the catalogues for oral history recordings

A guide to seaching the catalogues for oral history recordings

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