If you know anything about mental health, you are probably aware of how messed up insane asylums used to be. Pretty much all medical practices used to be pretty terrifying in the old days. However, mental health is and has always been one of the most misunderstood sections of health, so there are bound to be some pretty terrifying truths behind what these places used to look like. Medicine has advanced quite a bit since the 1900s, so looking at these horrible conditions is quite frightening.
American Horror Story had a season that took place in an insane asylum. Though most of what they showed was fake, especially the supernatural alien stuff that was going on, a few things they got completely right. The fact that a horror show meant to entertain and terrify people was actually able to have factual depictions is quite disturbing.
Luckily, today, some things are different. While mental health is still incredibly misunderstood, mostly by portrayals in the media, we’re using mental health victims less and less like science experiments to try and understand the brain. Conditions still aren’t ideal for those suffering from mental health related issues but they are getting better.
Many people who have mental illnesses aren’t taken seriously, and people are left untreated and helpless. Hopefully, by looking through our past mistakes, we’ll be able to understand what tools we need going forward to care for these people that actually need help. Here are 15 disturbing images depicting what life used to be like in mental asylums.
15. Restraints Were Much Crueler
Restraints are used on psychiatric patients in order to protect themselves from harm as well as keeping anyone around them safe from danger. In early medical times, though, the restraints would often be terrifying. Sometimes, they’d be so bad that they would end up causing more trauma and terror to the people in the restraints. In a time when not everything was known in the medical world, it was just easier for doctors and nurses to tie patients up.
Luckily, today, we have laws that protect patients from these cruel treatments. Most of the time, doctors and nurses do everything in their power to avoid restraining a patient. When they can’t they will usually use chemical restraint by injecting the patient with something to calm them. If a patient is particularly hard to restrain, they’ll use leather bounds, but nothing like what is shown in this picture.
14. There Were A Lot Of Reasons You Could Be Committed
The list above gives all the reasons one might be committed to a hospital. Knowing these are absolutely terrifying- I’m pretty sure everyone I’ve ever met would have been committed for one reason or another. Especially when you’re in college; I mean tobacco and masturbation? How were people getting away with committing patients for these reasons? The sad thing is that people were also often committed against their will.
That’s one thing that’s changed a lot in our present time. Most patients that are in psychiatric care today are self-admitted. They are there because they know that they need the medical attention to get better. Those who weren’t admitted by themselves at least aren’t being held for absurd reasons like some of the ones listed above. It’s truly terrifying to think of all the innocent people who were committed for some very normal behavior.
13. Slapping Machines Were Thought To Alleviate Patient’s Symptoms
Hundreds of years ago, people were coming up with all sorts of absurd inventions to try and figure out how to care for people. It’s sad to think about, as certain people really were trying to help these patients; they just didn’t know where to start or how to understand what was going on in their brains.
The slapping machine was a strange device used to help calm a patient or attempt to relieve some stress. It seems like anyone who was subjected to such a device would have a traumatizing experience that would only make their mental state worse.
12. Pleasure Oneself Was Thought To Have Led To Insanity
At one point in time, masturbation was thought to lead to insanity. Many patients with severe mental conditions would have trouble controlling themselves and would masturbate throughout the facilities. They would often be watched at night as well, and masturbation was strictly prohibited. In order to try and attempt to prevent patients from touching themselves, they would be forced to wear these anti-masturbation devices.
The ones pictured above weren’t as bad as some were to be rumored either. Sometimes they would be made out of thick heavy metal that people would have to carry around. Others would even have spikes on them for people who had particular difficulty controlling themselves. Luckily, medical professionals know now that masturbation is fine and completely normal, and definitely won’t lead to insanity. Depending on how you do it, though.
11. Yet Many Thought Women Needed It
There was once a time when women could have the potential of being diagnosed with hysteria. This was when they would act out and exhibit symptoms such as sexual desire, irritability, insomnia, and nervousness. One cure that people thought would help remedy the situation was to give women “vaginal massages.” Basically, when women were acting a bit crazy, doctors thought they just needed to get off. Doctors would then do different things to try and give them orgasms, like this doctor, who thought it was a good idea to spray a bunch of water at a woman’s vagina.
Women would be committed for very normal things, but one hundred years ago, it wasn’t really acceptable for women to voice their opinion, be promiscuous, or just basically display any sort of independence. If a woman acted like this, she could be committed for female hysteria. This eventually led to the creation of the vibrator, so women would be able to easily self-stimulate at home. Nowadays, we know that female hysteria isn’t really real and that it’s okay for women to act the way they do.
10. Steam Cabinets Were Used To Calm Patients
A lot of the machinery that people used to use for medical practices are just quite disturbing in the way that they look. Massive pieces of equipment were built to try and treat very common side effects. Nowadays, we know better and are able to treat a lot of people with mental health related illnesses with various types of therapy and medication, and don’t need these huge creepy devices to treat patients.
Though this picture is still pretty creepy to look at, many people still use steam cabinets today. They believe it to be a way to release toxins in the body and that it also might lead to weight loss. Regardless of whether or not they actually do help people, it’d still be a rather disturbing sight to walk into a room and see these people in boxes all staring back at you with nothing but their heads visible.
9. Women Were Committed Most Often
Aside from just hysteria, women could be committed for all sorts of things. Not only was just having sexual desire enough to commit a woman, but there was a slew of other absurd things that could lead to a woman being confined to a mental institution. There was once a time when men thought that women reading would lead to their insanity. If a woman was seen studying or reading too much, she would stand the chance of being committed.
There was once an instance of a woman who spent years in an institution and the only thing that put her there was a police report that said she had been found reading at 5:30 in the morning. If any one woman was committed for simply reading, there would be a lot fewer women on the streets, that’s for sure. Luckily times have changed and we’re finally starting to actually encourage women to be intelligent and independent.
8. Overcrowding Was A Problem
You can imagine that having people be able to be committed for such absurd reasons would eventually lead to overpopulation. Many people didn’t know what to do with all of the people in the facility, so they would end up having to chain them up and put many people in a room at once. When you have an overcrowding problem, not everyone is able to get the individual attention they need to get better.
These facilities were still places that people went to get help, but that can’t happen when your staff is massively outnumbered. Overcrowding led to violent breakouts, unnecessary and cruel punishment, and would sometimes result in people being released even though they still required medical attention. Mental asylums used to be a place where people would just put family members and spouses with health issues they didn’t want to care for or didn’t understand, and it led to devastating results.
7. Even Children Lived In The Asylums
Children were often committed to facilities as well for rather upsetting reasons. A lot of children with mental handicaps or learning disorders would be sent to live in the facilities because their parents didn’t care enough to handle the situation. Nowadays, we have the tools and the right places to take care of children who have these special needs.
The children who lived in the facilities would also be the kids of either the patients or the people who worked there. Oftentimes, doctors and nurses would marry while working at the same hospital. When they had children, if they lived on the grounds of the asylum, the children would be raised with all of the rest of the patients. Oftentimes as well, single mothers or pregnant women would be admitted and the only place for their children to go would be the hospital with them.
6. Electric Shock Was Terrifying
Electric shock was a practice that was commonly used and it was absolutely terrifying. The point of these patients going to the mental institutions was to get the help they needed. Instead, they would be subjected to these shock treatments which would only result in them getting worse. The process could be fatal at times, and would only lead to calmer patients, not necessarily healthier ones.
Nowadays, electric shock therapy is still used to treat patients with major disorders. There had been a massive decline for many years, mostly due to negative depictions and the use of anti-depressants. The forms that are used now are much safer- however there’s still very little evidence that suggests it actually helps the patient, and those who do report improved behavior also commonly report relapse in their negative emotions within a year of the treatments.
5. So Were Lobotomies
Lobotomies were even more horrifying than electric shock treatment. The process of a lobotomy involved taking an icepick to the patient’s eyes in order to cut away at certain parts of the brain. Some people did report that they had improved emotions after the procedure, but that was at the cost of many parts of their personality traits and intellect. Basically, a lobotomy would turn someone creative and brilliant, although affected by a mental disorder, into a walking zombie.
The process caused many deaths and those who did live would have high rates of suicide. The procedure would leave many people helpless and return to a childlike state that left them unable to understand things how they used to be able to care for themselves. The procedure was absolutely devastating. Those who still lived were barely people, as the biggest loss from the operation was their personality.
4. People Were Committed Just For Being LGBTQA
One devastating part about the past of mental asylums was how often people would be committed just for being LGBTQA. The thing was, too, that not a lot of people would even come out as gay or transgendered, as that wasn’t socially acceptable on any level. But if you displayed any traits of someone who might be gay or transgendered, you ran the risk of getting committed.
There was one case of a woman who liked to wear pants and work with machinery like men. She ended up being committed, though she never even came out as transgendered. If women didn’t have a sexual appetite for men because they might have been lesbians or asexual, they would be committed as well. Homosexuality was seen as a mental health disease so the best way to treat it would be to send those people to an institution. Luckily we don’t do such things anymore, though some LGBTQA people are still subjected to things like conversion therapy, an absurd religion based process that attempts to make gay people straight.
3. Religion Was Thought To Be Enough
Just like they do today, people 100 years ago rejected medical treatment if their religion said so. Many people believed that a lot of those who had mental health symptoms just needed religion or God to cure them. This is something that is often still believed today, especially among fundamentalists and Scientologists. However, it was much more common and socially acceptable to reject medical treatment on a religious basis 100 years ago than it is today.
Those who rejected religion ran the risk of being sent to an asylum. If you weren’t religious or godly enough, you might display some signs that would lead people to believe you were insane. Those people were probably the least insane of all and had no business being sent to a facility where actual ill people needed treatment. Luckily, most of us know well enough today that, while doctors aren’t perfect and don’t have all the answers to cure all our ailments, it’s still better to take a pill than to pray it away.
2. A Lot Less Was Known About Mental Health 100 Years Ago
Today, mental health is still one of the most mysterious parts of medicine. But 100 years ago, it was even worse. It’s easy for us to look at all of these practices now and think about how terrifying and absurd they were, but back in those times, doctors were simply doing the best they could to try and understand what was wrong and how to fix it. Nowadays, we are still unable to know exactly how to fix the human mind, mainly because there’s no right way to run a brain!
When it comes to hearts, stomachs, and livers, we know if there’s a problem and we mostly know how to fix it. But our brains operate our personalities, feelings, and emotions, so you can’t just flip a switch and fix things when you have mental disorders like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Diagnoses for these diseases take awhile as well, and it’s hard to know exactly what people do and don’t have. But at least in our modern times, we are able to give people pills and therapy instead of cutting out chunks of their brains and electrocuting them.
1. Many Asylums Are Abandoned
One huge issue in our world is that there is a large misunderstanding of mental health. Those who claim to have illnesses like depression or anxiety are told that they “just need to get over it” all too often. The sad part is, that once you develop a mental disorder, you run the risk of it developing into something much more severe when left untreated. As your brain grows and develops, so might your mental illness, meaning that things could potentially get better, but most of the time, things can also get worse.
Mental health facilities have been rapidly closing, which is why you might find many abandoned buildings around the country. Most of this came around mid-century when mental facilities were at capacity and funding for keeping them open was vanishing. This led to many people being released onto the streets when they probably shouldn’t have been. This also left a bunch of failed hospitals and empty buildings for teens to tour on Halloween. It’s actually quite devastating, but it seems like we’re moving more towards a time when people are taking mental health seriously.