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Asylums and Mental Illness in the Victorian Era

This presentation describes the role of the metally ill in Victorian England, and explores how such people were treated in a society of little medical understanding.
by

Ryan Wilson

on 20 December 2012

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Transcript of Asylums and Mental Illness in the Victorian Era

Created by Ryan Wilson Asylums and Mental Illness in the Victorian England The Law Before the Era Treatments Gender Differences Men and women were treated with incredible difference in regard to diagnosing mental illness. For the majority of the era, men were only incarcerated within a mental asylum if they revealed serious symptoms of derangement, such as seizures or fits of rage. Yet women were met with incredibly discrimination in regard to diagnosis; actions such as extramarital affairs or emotional breakdowns were often interpreted as insanity, and thus were imprisoned more liberally within asylums. In many cases, men used this weakness in the Victorian system to rid themselves of wives, sisters, etc. so that they may either exact revenge or distance themselves away from a financial burden. Rochester in Relation A further look at Bertha Bertha Mason may well have been a victim of gender discrimination of the Victorian era. since women of the time were often diagnosed as mentally deranged based upon emotional outbursts, it is possible that she was treated as insane by Rochester due to post-marital stress, as both her and Rochester rushed into their marriage. However, she is clearly deranged when she meets Jane years later, so it is likely that she went insane under Rochester's care. Such imprisonment serves as a symbol for Victorian womanhood and the consequences of marriage in Victorian society. Works Cited Sent to the Asylum: The Victorian Women Locked up Because They Were Suffering from Stress, Post Natal Depression and Anxiety." Mail Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.
Mental Illness in the Victorian Era." Suite101.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.
Health & Medicine in the 19th Century." - Victoria and Albert Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.
Restoring Perspective: Life and Treatment at London's Asylum." Restoring Perspective: Life and Treatment at London's Asylum. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.
Bertha Mason. Digital image. Sodahead. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012. <http://www.sodahead.com/fun/does-jane-eyre-ever-get-attacked-by-bertha/question-1787203/?link=ibaf&q=&imgurl=http://images.sodahead.com/polls/001787203/3351778989_Bertha_Mason_by_Makena_answer_1_xlarge.jpeg>.
Rochester. Digital image. Blogspot. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2012.
VicInsane1. Digital image. Karenessblog. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2012.
The Experiment. Digital image. Libguides. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2012. Before this period, most mentally ill individuals were shunned by their family and peers, and often handed over to the church as souls possessed by Satan for exorcism. It was much less common for a person to be determined as mentally deranged, thus causing the insane to be mistreated in most circumstances. While the church still preformed such exorcisms, tolerance and awareness of the mentally ill became more common during the end of the eighteenth century, propelling this attitude into the Victorian era. The diagnosis of mentally ill became more popular during this time with the advancement
of medicine, and thus by the nineteenth century, mental instability became a
staple of Victorian
medicine and culture. Most law regarding asylums and the
mentally ill were established within the
eightenth century, and thus set the stage
for Victorian medicine. One of the major
laws established in this period was the Mad House Act, which established a licensing requirement for intitutions to allow housing for insane patients. This act also made it manditory for the governemnt to inspec mental institutions regularly. It may be partially because of this act that Rochester kept Bertha's imprisonment a secret. In 1808, the County
Asylum Act was passed so that English
counties may be allowed to levy rates in
order fund building county asylums. This was impliumented in order to ensure better conditions for the insane, but the law eventually failed, allowing for only twenty county asylums to be built. Most treatments in the Victorian Era were highly experimental, and most patients were used as test subjects in order to better the understanding of the medical professionals at the asylum. These experimental treatments ranged from electro-shock therapy designed to reset the brain, leeches applied to the head in order to drain the bad blood circulating within the brain, as well as drilling into the skull in order to give the brain air, etc. Almost all of these experimental treatments failed, causing the patients physical and emotional harm; the doctors conducting these experiments rarely learned anything from these treatments, and often accidently lobotomized their patients in the process. When Rochester determines that Bertha Mason is insane, it is entirely possible that Bertha was not actually mentally ill. Due to the gender discrimination of that era, Rochester would have easily been able to have Bertha falsely diagnosed as a lunatic, which he may have done in order to rid himself of a first wife that he rushed into marrying. However, it is also possible that Rochester was given a false diagnosis for Bertha because of the prejudices of the time, thus causing him to unintentionally ruin Bertha's life. It is probable that Rochester kept Bertha in his care in order to prevent her from being admitted to regular mental asylums due to their experimental treatments and other forms of abuse.
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