The History and Horrors of Insane Asylums
June, 8 2018
Psychiatry is maturing, with a wealth of well-understood methods and algorithms, but
back in the 1700s through the early 1900s, their practices were anything but sane. With no one
truly understanding how the mind works, treatment was non existent, and doctors were willing to
try any means necessary to cure their patients. Unfortunately, this approach resulted in problems
related to how poorly patients were treated and how difficult mental health was to understand.
However, the effects of these treatments have rarely been studied directly.
Asylums were created to be a place to treat and house the insane. Many of these
asylums quickly devolved into nightmare scenarios. Society used these houses of hell to hide the
rejects; the mentally ill, the disabled, and even women who upset their husbands. Asylums
frequently abused their power and performed abhorrent acts of torture on their patients, For
example, lobotomies and electric shock were common treatments for patients. Modern methods
focus on overcoming problems by proposing techniques for addressing mental health disorders.
It is of interest to know whether these medieval tactics still hold true. This paper will examine
previous work, as well as the history, to expose the horrors of early asylums.
Before Asylums were created, the mentally ill were usually cared for by family members.
Mental illness was generally thought to be caused by a moral or spiritual failing; punishment and
shame were often handed down to the mentally ill and occasionally their families as well. As the
population grew and more areas became densely settled, mental illness became one of many
social issues for which community institutions were created to handle the needs of such
individuals. In 1752, the Quakers opened up one of the first mental hospitals in Philadelphia
called the Pennsylvania Hospital. The Pennsylvania Hospital provided rooms in the basement,
complete with shackles to house many of the more violent patients. The hospital remained open
until 1998, under different names at different times, for over 200 years. In 1773, to deal with
mentally disturbed people who were causing problems in the community, the Virginia legislature
provided funds to build a small hospital in Williamsburg. Over the years, the hospital grew in
size as needs arose but remained within the historic area of the city until the mid-20th century,
when a new hospital was built in a nearby suburb. The Eastern Lunatic Asylum was opened in 1
Lexington, Kentucky, as the first mental institution west of the Appalachian Mountains. It still
operates today under a new name, Eastern State Hospital.
The beginning of the nineteenth-century brought new European ideas to the United
States concerning the care and treatment of the mentally ill. These ideas, soon to be called
“moral treatment,” promised a cure for those who sought treatm...