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Asylums and Treatments of Mental Illness in the Victorian Era

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by Sally Tan on 3 December 2012

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Transcript of Asylums and Treatments of Mental Illness in the Victorian Era

Mental Illness and Asylums of the Victorian Era Asylums and Treatments of Mental Illness from 1837-1901 Mental Asylums Prior To 1850 Before the mid-1800's it was common belief that people with mental illnesses were tainted by the devil. Patients were treated poorly and dwelled in unsanitary conditions. For example, most patients lived in cages, and were given minimal amounts of food; most of the time spoiled or unclean. Patients were treated like animals by their caretakers and facilitators, many of whom believed that the patients were deserving of such inhumanity. Mental Asylums Post 1850 As science progressed, a movement reform challenged the original beliefs people had about mental illnesses. People began to understand that the mental illnesses were actually diseases of the brain. They realized that the mentally ill could be cured of their disease. This realization led to better and more ethical treatments of patients in the asylums. The new discovery fuelled the scientific development in the field. Facilities Of The Asylum The introduction of asylums brought relief to the mentally ill committed to jails or those who were abandoned. In the later years, the security of the asylums were unlike today; patients were allowed to roam free as they were perceived as neither a very big threat nor capable of endangering themselves and were able to go into town. However, in the earlier years patients were kept locked up, with very little privacy in close quarters with others. To pass time, games such as sports and other various recreations were allowed within asylums. As a form of rehabilitation, patients were permitted to work in the facilities such as the kitchen, farms and laundry room. Household chores such as cleaning were performed by the more mentally stable patients. Practices Used For Treatments Such treatments as the Rotary Chair, solitary confinement and even the Electric Chair were common practices. The Electric chair worked in some cases where the patient was suffering from depression. The Rotary Chair was presented as more of an experimental treatment as it had no scientific evidence behind the reasoning. Solitary confinement was used only for the violent and suicidal patients; the patients were placed in white padded rooms to prevent them from hurting themselves and other patients. Many of these practices only furthered along the insanity of the inmates. These practices may seem unethical in today's terms, but they were common practice back in the 1800's. A Comparison Between Genders The Victorian asylum was a very gender divided operation and the two sexes were split up. Generally, the men's division was treated better than the women's; in some asylums' cases, the women were permitted to sleep in stables attached to the facility in unsanitary conditions. Women were also understood to not be as mentally stable as men because it was believed that they contained a lesser mental capacity. Women were expected to maintain a passive, withdrawn housewife attitude as too much mental activity such as schooling would improve her chances of developing sanity imperfections. Other groups, such as spinsters and lesbians, were concerning to society because of their alternative life choices and were therefore labelled as mentally unstable and sometimes even a threat. The belief was that not enough male interaction would cause side effects bordering on insanity. Treatment for Schizophrenia During the Victorian era, there was little to no understanding at all about schizophrenia. Scientific theories on causes and cures for schizophrenia were surfacing as opposed to the 15th century beliefs on witchcraft and demon possession. Although people recognized schizophrenia as a curable disease, most of the theories were still inaccurate and much of the time caused harm to the patients instead of helping them. Some examples of the early ideas of schizophrenia treatment included: giving patients doses of insulin until they retreated into a state of shock. The patients were then given cups of sugary tea to revive them. Doctors would go about this procedure due to their hypothesis on schizophrenia being caused by high/low blood sugar. Other theories included schizophrenia being caused by circulatory problems. Doctors thought that by letting out blood through leeching and slowing down the amount of blood flowing to the brain, people with schizophrenia would gradually become sane again. Drilling holes in the scull to let out demonic spirits and shock treatment were also used. Rockwood Insane Asylum Kingston, Ontario In the 1850's, when local prisons and penitentiaries as well as families became intolerant of the mentally ill, Rockwood Asylum was established to accommodate these people. Originally, the asylum was intended to house the criminally insane; it soon developed into a "public" asylum. Although the asylum's intended use was a rehabilitation centre for the insane, most of the caretakers within the asylum focused solely on calming the patients rather than helping them to recover. Calming the patients usually lessened the load of work a certain staff member may have.

Towards the end of the Victorian Era, Rockwood acquired a more light-hearted feel. They were no longer as strict to the patients and became more of a home as opposed to an asylum. Rockwood even became one of the first asylums to have central heating. http://waywardvictorian.tumblr.com/post/815439932/mental-illness-during-the-victorian-era Sources http://www.thetimechamber.co.uk/beta/sites/asylums/asylum-history/the-history-of-the-asylum http://www.ontariogenealogy.com/kingstoninsaneasylum.html http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC539549/ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2141741/Sent-asylum-The-Victorian-women-locked-suffering-stress-post-natal-depression-anxiety.html
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