Patients who were unlucky enough to be in mental asylums from the past remember them with horror. Today's mental asylums look like five stars hotels compared to what happened in similar institutions only a few decades ago.
Several surviving photographs testify that mental asylums were absolute hell on earth at the time!
The First Mental Asylums
Asylums for the mentally ill have been open since the 1920s. At the turn of the 20th century, patients underwent electric shock and lobotomy (which involves removing parts of the brain). The idea was to encourage the return of common sense by adapting the patient's environment and providing a safe place.
The final result left room for experiments on a vulnerable population with almost no supervision.
Such interventions were possible thanks to the fact that the mentally ill were seen as walking dead. They lost every right. Any drastic attempt at treatment was acceptable.
The previous century remembers the terrible horrors in the treatment of psychological problems. Strong electric shocks were applied as the soldiers did not react to the usual stimuli. Whatever appeared as a new invention in medicine was also used to treat psychological problems.
Insulin shock therapy, malaria infection, electroconvulsive therapy, and lobotomy were practiced.
Thanks to poor scientific methodology and distorted conclusions, justifying these cruel practices was possible. It was stated that 75% of patients have improvement while neglecting side effects like epilepsy, stupor, confusion, etc. In short, some benefits were often obtained, but the harms were far more significant.
Horror stories coming out of the asylum started to trigger their closure from the middle of the 20th century onwards. Social care is more fiction than a fact. Many people with mental states become homeless or are in families without adequate supervision.
Ancient cultures explained madness as being possessed by evil spirits. In the Old Testament or Jewish Torah, evil spirits and divine punishment were considered the causes of mental disorders.
The Middle Ages were burdened with these ideas, and the relics of saints and martyrs were used for healing. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Western culture accepted mental illness as exclusively medical, and attempts at treatment led to experiments that were no different from torture.
Some of the most bizarre methods were supposed to provide patients with near-death experiences.
Since ancient Rome, there have been stories about those who survived shipwrecks or nearly drowned, and their sanity has improved. They were previously considered insane.
In practical application, patients were confined in cages and immersed in water.
When the bubbles stopped coming out, the patient would be pulled out, hoping they survived the process and were called to reason.
The List Of Bizarre Treatment Methods Is Quite Long…
Treatment by turning around until vomiting started to empty the intestines is another example of bringing the patient to themselves through shock.
The so-called calming chairs were similar to electric chairs: the arms and legs were tied to the chair, below was an opening for emptying the bowel, and the set part included the head, covering the eyes and ears.
The goal was to isolate the patient from external stimuli and prevent movement. Allegedly, this reduced blood flow to the brain. The patient would then be poured cold water on their heat and hot water on their feet to get "everything out."
Restrictions On Freedom Were Dangerously Severe
At a time when effective and almost harmless sedatives did not yet exist, doctors used excruciating and dangerous means to calm patients and prevent them from harming themselves and others.
Ropes and handcuffs, imprisonment for days and weeks in cramped closets or even boxes - it all went into action. Such therapies often worsen the patient's psychosis instead of truly calming them. The doctors at the time were often unaware of it.
Healthy People Forced Into Mental Asylums
In the late 19th century, the list of indications for hospitalization in psychiatric clinics in the United States included masturbation, immoral behavior, intemperance, excessive religious zeal, communication with bad society. It also included reading novels and tobacco use.
Forced hospitalization was prescribed to those who were kicked in the head by a horse, went to war, or whose parents were relatives. A small list of several dozen testimonies leaves no doubt: sometime in the 1890s, each of us could easily have been thrown into a mental asylum.
Patients Were Treated With Whipping Machines
These machines were used a hundred years ago in psychiatric clinics and mental asylums to alleviate the symptoms of disease in the mentally ill.
The solid weight of the sticks beat the patient all over their body from the nape of their neck to the heel: the doctors hoped they would feel better because of it. In reality, the opposite happened - but, again, the doctors didn't know about it yet.
Doctors Believed That Masturbation Was The Cause Of Mental Illness
Only decades ago, doctors were firmly convinced that masturbation could cause insanity. They completely confused the cause with the effect. After all, many patients in psychiatric clinics, unable to control themselves, engaged in masturbation from morning till night.
Observing them, the doctors concluded that masturbation caused the disease, although it was only one of the symptoms. Yet, in the old days, patients in mental asylums were required to wear bulky and uncomfortable clothes that prevent them from masturbating.
It was awkward and sometimes painful to walk in them. However, the clinics' patients lived in them for weeks and sometimes years.
Women In Mental Asylums Were Forcibly Subjected To "vaginal Massage"
Surprisingly, while masturbation was considered dangerous for men, it was prescribed to women to treat hysteria.
This diagnosis was given based on irritability or lack of sexual desire. As a treatment, the so-called "vaginal massage" was prescribed. The massage of the vagina with a unique device that brings the patient to orgasm was the cure.
Of course, permission was sought from none of the patients - and yet, given the situation in mental asylums, this was by no means the worst, albeit useless, method of treatment.
Steam Cabins Were Also Considered An Effective Treatment Method
These boxes are not cages but particular soothing steam cabins from the end of the 19th and 20th centuries. Despite the frightening appearance, there was nothing terrifying about them.
In fact, these were similar to modern single-barrel saunas that can be found in many spas today.
Doctors believed that such a steam room would calm violent patients. This method of treatment could even be called pleasant. But, as you can see in the photo, patients were placed in boxes fully clothed, which turned the pleasure of the sauna into slow torture.
Women Were More Likely To Be Patients In Mental Asylums Than Men
In the 1950s, sending a woman to a mental asylum was easier than sending a man.
For this, the already mentioned diagnosis of "hysteria" was most often used, under which anything could be adjusted, even resistance to a rapist husband.
Reading was considered another risk factor. It was believed that it would drive a woman crazy. Many members of the fairer sex have spent years in mental asylums just because, according to hospital documents, they were caught reading at 5.30 am.
Mental Asylums Of Earlier Periods Were Overcrowded
With so many indications for hospitalization, it is not surprising that all mental asylums of old times suffered from a surplus of patients.
Doctors handled the overcrowding without protocol. They crammed people into wards, like herring in a barrel, and to get in more, they carried beds and other "surpluses" from wards, giving patients the freedom to sit on the bare floor for greater comfort.
Patients were also chained to the walls. It makes straight jackets an example of humanism in comparison.
Children Had Been Living In Mental Asylums For Years
There were no special pediatric clinics in the old days. Young patients who suffered, for example, with an intellectual disability or permanent behavioral disorders were sent to the same mental asylums as adult patients. They lived there for years, some their whole lives.
There were many healthy children in the mental asylums of that time. Those were the children of patients, medical staff, single mothers who had nowhere to go with their babies, and children left without parents.
Patients primarily raised this whole horde of children: the medical staff simply did not have time for it.
Doctors Regularly Used Electroshock As A Therapy
Electroshock therapy, a strong current delivered to the patient's head, is still used in certain mental asylums. It is now used only in cases when the patient, as they say, has nothing to lose.
But half a century ago, it was used all the time, including as a sedative. The electric shock did not calm anyone down but only inflicted unbearable pain on the patients.
Renowned mathematician John Nash, who had schizophrenia, was electrocuted in American mental asylum in the 1960s and later recalled the experience as the worst of his life.
In An Attempt To Lobotomize Patients, Doctors Turned Patients Into Vegetables
As early as the mid-twentieth century, many psychiatrists considered lobotomy an accurate way of rescuing a patient from schizophrenia or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
This operation looked eerie: the doctor injected a tool that looked like an ice-crushing knife through the corner of the patient's eye and, piercing the thin bone of the eye socket with it, blindly cut the brain's nerve tissue with a sharp motion.
After the operation, the person lost their abilities, coordination of movements and blood poisoning was often due to non-sterile equipment.
Nevertheless, lobotomy has been considered a cure for people with schizophrenia for more than a decade. In the United States, mental asylums about 5,000 lobotomies were performed in the early 1950s.
It Was Possible To Get Into A Mental Asylum Due To Non-traditional Sexual Orientation
The fact that homosexual sexual orientation was considered a mental illness decades ago probably comes as no surprise. But, it is impressive how doctors concluded about sexual preferences when deciding whether to take a patient to the hospital!
In one case, a woman spent several years in a mental asylum just because she loved wearing pants and playing with outfits. There are known cases of several women diagnosed as mentally ill due to low sexual appetite.
Asexual ladies at the time were considered hidden lesbians, believing that an average, sane woman had no right to refuse her husband!
Both The Lack And Excess Of Religiosity A Hundred Years Ago Led To A Mental Asylum
One hundred years ago in the United States, a person who refused the help of a therapist or surgeon for religious reasons (as Scientology enthusiasts today) had every chance of going to a mental asylum.
But the lack of religious sentiment was also met with a visit to a mental asylum. There are several cases where people have spent more than a year in an institution simply because they have openly declared themselves atheists.
The Doctors Who Treated The Ill Knew Almost Nothing About Human Brain
One hundred years ago, doctors knew almost nothing about the functioning of the human brain. Their treatments were more like cruel experiments on humans.
Patients were doused with ice water, their skulls drilled, and parts of their brains removed, not because doctors were confident in the effectiveness of these measures, but to understand whether or not they worked.
Not surprisingly, mortality in mental asylums a century ago was just somewhat lower than in hospitals treating patients with plague.
What Has Changed Since The First Mental Asylums?
In the middle of the 20th century, massive changes took place. First of all, the practice of institutionalizing patients changed dramatically. Most mental asylums that were previously crowded remain almost empty.
At the same time, psychiatry is finally flourishing thanks to the development of pharmacotherapy.
The psychiatric tradition is prone to positivism. The influence of the socio-political settings on the categorization of mental disorders is evident since homosexuality was once a disorder. In the Soviet Union, there was a diagnosis of social schizophrenia reserved for all opponents of the communist system.
Over time, the number of disorders multiplied, and the criteria for getting a diagnosis became lower. It means that an increasing number of people can get a diagnosis. If we create a system in which more people meet the criteria for mental illness, do we have the right to talk about mental disorders at all?
We like to think that progress has been made. Though it is true, it's not that simple. When it comes to severe mental disorders, we are still looking for answers, just like our predecessors - confused, scared, and powerless to come to what deeply shakes and disturbs humanity.
Abandoned Mental Asylums Are Facilities For Dark Excursions Today
It was not until the 1970s and 1980s that the Western world began to abandon the practice of general hospitalization of patients in "grief homes" and the cruel and ineffective treatment methods.
In the 1970s, psychiatric hospitals in the United States and Europe began to close massively. At the same time, many actual patients on the street could not function independently.
Today's buildings of former mental asylums are the most popular facilities for young lovers. Other visitors are extremes who search everywhere, looking for traces of the era of bloody dawn of psychiatry, which lasted for several centuries.