The history of insane asylums is a long and barbaric one with such violent and inhumane stories of abuse and torture that they may as well have been concentration camps. From mass graves being discovered after many of these institutions were shut down, to walls and beds covered with dried up blood from innumerable victims, many, if not most, of these institutions have been shut down over the years under allegations of abuse, torture, and vile practices under the guise of “alternative therapies and cures.”
It is understandable that the general public of yore viewed mental disease as some kind of demonic possession or even God’s vengeance on evil souls and so they accordingly remained scared of the mentally ill, chasing them out of town or locking them into small, airless rooms. Exorcisms were often performed and cases of deranged people being beaten, starved, or burnt to death were not uncommon.
But when the hospitals for the mentally ill opened and there were trained doctors, nurses, and caregivers to aid these victims of their own mind and disease, one would think that they would live as decent and as wholesome a life possible in their limited and diminished mental capacities. No such luck. Often understaffed and always under-budgeted, the medical staff at insane asylums and hospitals for the mentally ill slowly lost their own mental balance or simply turned to pure evil in a bid to “control” the ever increasing populations of people who have lost their minds.
Here we give you 15 chillingly creepy pictures from mental asylums around the world, and some equally horrific stories to match. It just goes to show that losing one’s mind is perhaps the most tragic thing that could happen to anyone, anywhere, and anytime…
15. The Best Way To Calm Them Down Was To Tie Them Up
In 1997, 20 years ago, the Topeka State Hospital finally shut down amidst allegations of abuse and ill-treatment of its mentally ill inmates. It didn’t start off bad, but after years of being understaffed and poorly maintained, many of its inmates lived in pure, never-ending hell, with just their monotony of being for company.
In the 1950s, a reporter saw the deplorable conditions of the “hospital” that existed in the name of care, where patients were often kept nude and chained to beds. One inmate in particular had been strapped to a bed with leather strips for so long that the skin had started growing around those straps. The hospital could not procure the records of many of its inmates, and they became nobody’s people – since no one even remembered who they were to begin with.
Luckily the government intervened and for a while, Topeka became renowned for excellent psychiatric care and rehabilitation before budget cuts stepped back in, and Topeka finally shut its doors as more and more patients with mental illness were treated as OPDs.
14. Since The Brain Has Conked Out, Let’s Just Kill It, Partly…
The huge gothic building of The Danvers State Insane Asylum was constructed in the 1870s – and it was made to be a home for the mentally ill with the goal of treating its inmates with patience and compassion.
That said, Danvers is considered the birthplace of the lobotomy for they used it freely on many patients, whether they needed it or not. What is lobotomy you ask? It’s a dangerous procedure in which the neural pathways of the prefrontal lobe are disconnected from the rest of the brain by inserting a leucotome into the brain via the eye socket with the express purpose of creating lesions in the brain.
Then the staff at Danvers went overboard with its “treatments” and rumors of overdoing patients with insulin, violent shock treatments, and generally making inmates die in a bid to reduce population ran rampant on these hallowed grounds that once also held the Salem witch trials. Finally, in 1992 it was shut down and converted into apartments.
13. When TB Patients Were Made To Go Insane By Sheer Inhumanity
So Waverly Hills has the dubious distinction of being one of the most haunted places in America. This was one hospital that wasn’t an insane asylum, but frankly, it might have been. Built specifically for the treatment of tuberculosis patients at a time when not much was known about the disease, the doctors here deserved to be admitted to insane asylums themselves for the “cures” and “treatment” they distributed.
At this time, TB was actually called consumption, and once you had it, you might as well be dead for there was no cure for it. The Waverly Hills Hospital was more of a hospice where TB patients went to die in peace, only they got hell instead. Treating TB was a barbaric process mostly where the doctors removed ribs and muscles and inserted balloons into the lungs to help them expand more. And when these operated patients died, their bodies were simply thrown down a “body chute.”
12. The Zoo-Like Conditions Of The American Horror Story Asylum
The story of Willowbrook, or rather the asylum from the second season of American Horror Story, is a shocking and appalling one. It managed to shock Robert Kennedy in the 60s, who was creeped out by the zoo-like conditions of its inmates, often kept nude and locked in cages, and rightfully called it a snake pit. The name stuck. Especially because Willowbrook was supposed to be a “school” for mentally retarded or slow children. But it became a prison, and when reporter Geraldo Rivera investigated the rumors floating about in a Peabody Award-winning investigation, the conditions of its pitiable child inmates were bared for the world to see. These prisoners were left to their own devices, uncared for and wandering about covered in their own filth, urine, and feces. Some of the inmates were sexually assaulted by the staff since they were easy prey.
Once a child was admitted into Willowbrook, his parents were not allowed in. And then slowly but surely, the spirit of the Willowbrook prisoners were crushed as they were left with no comfort, a bare minimum of food, no education, and no hygiene – love having upped and left a while back.
11. The Megalomaniac Who Removed Body Parts To Cure Mental Defect
The Trenton State Hospital in New Jersey began what can only be called the most barbaric acts of mental illness treatment. It was founded in 1848 and headed by Dr. Henry Cotton, who for reasons unknown, started carrying out some of the most archaic, torturous, and misinformed medical treatments ever in the name of making his patients sane.
He decided that insanity and mental defect were linked to bacteria, more so because research then pointed out that bacteria caused syphilis. So to cure the bacterial infection and the resulting insanity from it, Cotton started removing body parts. He started with teeth, and then went on to remove stomachs, testicles, ovaries, colons, and gall bladders of residents, obviously killing many of his patients.
10. The Accursed Residents Of Bedlam And Their Chilling Stories
London’s Bethlem Royal Hospital may sound pretty highfalutin but was anything but. Established in 1247, the treatment of the patients involved agonizing methods that would make anyone lose their sanity, but not regain it. Rightfully dubbed Bedlam, the inmates were called Bedlamites and were often from not-so-wealthy families who admitted their family here with mild to serious mental disorders, not knowing what else to do with them.
Soon Bedlam overflowed with patients afflicted with everything from mild learning disabilities to epilepsy to schizophrenia. And the treatment of more or less all was the same, to tie them up and lock them up in cages. Then came practice of rotational therapy (wildly spinning a patient in a chair repeatedly), believing that the vomiting would purge the patient of disease. Then of course came treatment with leeches and cupping glass therapy. When Bedlam shifted to a rural place, mass graves were found at the abandoned, crumbling building.
9. Pain Is The Rightful Cure For Insanity And Even Imbecility
The Pennhurst Asylum of Pennsylvania was home to almost 3000 residents and yet just about 200 of them were getting any education or rehabilitative therapy. In fact, while initially Pennhurst was supposed to be a home for people with mental and physical disabilities, it soon became a home for those who did not have a home to call their own – immigrants, criminals, and even orphans.
The insane and the imbecile, the orphaned and the criminals, all lived together under one roof which did not make this one happy family. The higher functioning inmates were often “punished” by asking them to clean up after or work at the dorms of the lower-functioning inmates, thus subjecting them to needless torture. When the story of Pennhurst broke, a newspaper headline called it “The Shame of Pennsylvania: A Vast Junkyard of Wasted Humans…” A doctor was documented saying that as treatment of the bullies, he would give them injections that would cause extreme pain without permanent damage, so pain was a controlling mechanism for the insane at Pennhurst.
8. The Water “Cure” For Uncooperative Patients
The Lakeland Island Asylum in Kentucky was no less virulent in its cures. In fact, most of its treatments seemed like tortures and most of the inmates were terrified of revealing anything to the public. If they spoke or testified about what they went through on an everyday basis and were found out, they were subjected to far worse – strangled to the point of passing out, beaten with socks stuffed with potatoes, and forced to take long and cold showers.
Hydrotherapy is basically a treatment in which both hot and cold water showers and baths are used to alter a patient’s behavior and calm him down. Here at Lakeland, it was corrupted and used as a punishment and torture technique. Patients were held down and tied up with freezing water dripping on them as punishment, and sometimes forced to take arduously long cold showers even when it was below zero.
7. Either You Follow And Obey, Or We Drown You
The matron head of staff at Topeka Insane Asylum devised a devious form of torture she and her attendants referred to as the “water cure.” When patients were belligerent and did not obey orders, they were grabbed and pulled to the floor by multiple attendants and held static. Then a towel or sheet would be thrown over their faces. The head was held immobile after which water would be poured over the patient’s covered face. Poured fast, it would be poured continuously till the patient gave in and promised to obey orders, but sometimes the patients actually drowned as well.
Simulated drowning is often used as a torture technique against POWs and to get information from terrorists and militants Why it was used on patients already cursed with mental defects, with no thought given to their mental balance, remains beyond the grasp of humanity.
6. Killing Them Softly, Simply By Cutting Off Food Supply
The inhumanity in insane asylums did not come so much from its ill and sometimes deranged inmates, but rather from the “caregivers.” While it is easy to understand and perhaps even empathize with the plight of the doctors, nurses, and other staff members of these under-budgeted, under-staffed, but overly-populated hellholes, the treatments they ended up doling out to the pitiable inmates was nothing short of deplorable.
At times when places would get too populated, the staff controlled the population by murdering them heinously and deviously, by starving some to death. It was a rather well-known secret of the 1800s and even the early 1900s where the inmates would be locked up in godforsaken corners and just left to slowly die a painful death where their insides would be on fire without food and their tongues rotting without water. Dirty cells in basements and attics would be used and the deaths were attributed to just about anything to cover up these devious misdeeds.
5. Where Death Becomes The Final, And The Only, Release
In 1901, a widow came forward with the sorry story of her husband’s death she attributed to the abuse and ill-treatment handed out to him at this asylum. As per her eyewitness account, her mentally unhinged husband was put in a straitjacket and made to trot up and down the Bellevue Hospital corridor while an attendant continuously flogged him with a flogger tipped with metal, to make it all the more painful. Obviously, he was then taken to a hospital to treat his fractured ribs.
As per doctor’s orders, once his ribs healed, he was sent back to the asylum. He never got better mentally but went further and further into a deep spiral and within the span of a year and a half, his spirit and body broke under the physical beatings and torture and he died. There are many such inmate stories in the annals of mental asylums. Their death was often their only chance of release.
4. The Wet Towel Treatment And Slop For Food
Once, London’s Whittingham Hospital was the largest mental institution in Britain and heralded a pioneer for the use of electroencephalograms. But then the whole sorry story came out. Patients were given just leftover, mixed-together food called “slops” or only some bread and jam to eat. As punishment, aggressive patients would be locked out of the building in the courtyard in extreme cold and were put to bed wearing only vests or some were locked out of the bathrooms.
Then is the infamous wet towel treatment where staff members would twist a wet towel around a patient’s neck until the patient lost consciousness, revive him and then do it again. Apparently, some even claimed that two nurses had poured alcohol onto the slippers of one patient and the dressing gown of another and then set both on fire, killing the patients rather horrendously. Devoid of all humanity, these staff members perhaps belonged to insane asylums themselves or better, in purgatory.
3. When Therapeutic Warm Baths Turn Scaldingly Deadly
Warm baths can really help to de-stress – and if they work on the sane population, they are even more effective on the mentally unhinged. So often, at insane asylums, warm baths were given to patients to help them relax and calm down.
Sadly, many institutions managed to abuse a warm soak too. To punish patients, they would be put into warm baths and then left there for days, without food or water. And sometimes, the water would not be warm but scalding and there have been reports of patients being boiled and scalded to death. Do the mentally ill, unfortunate as they are, deserve this kind of atrocious treatment from the very people so hired to care for them? Can the attendants be so stressed that they disgrace humanity and the medical profession, choosing to hide deaths that they caused under the guise of illness and mental defect?
2. A Disgruntled Relative and An Absent Doctor Could Have You Declared Insane
Enter the horror-filled grounds of the Beechwood Lunatic Asylum, and you got a free one-way ticket simply when a relative who didn’t want you around told a doctor you were insane and the doctor would sign a form without even examining you. Whammo! You were a certified lunatic and trundled off to Beechwood, and you were not going to come out alive ever again.
Beechwood officially closed in 1995 after 128 years of terror for its inmates, 9000 of whom died. Statically speaking, one patient died every five days at Beechwood, which makes it far, far worse than any prison! A popular ghost hunting and touring site today, people have spotted many a terror-filled face in reflections and windows and heard voices go boo in the night – which people claim are the tortured souls of the inmates trapped for eternity in this nightmare of an asylum. Many of its poor inmates were not insane when they entered it, but were certainly certifiable by the time they died and finally left this sinkhole of agonized creatures.
1. The Man Who Lobotomized While Chewing Gum, With An Ice Pick
Let’s finally talk about The Lobotomy Doctor aka Dr. Walter Freeman, a Yale-educated doctor who the disgruntled medical community were dubious about and yet who was able to “operate” on some 3,500 brains, on free will. Dr. Freeman began to see lobotomy as the only cure to any and all mental defects because he believed that by cutting off the neural pathways to the “insane” brain, the rest of the brain could be saved and see things in a better light.
While initially the lobotomies were performed by drilling through and removing a part of the scalp, exposing the brain for a short time, Freeman devised a much faster way. He would make the patient unconscious or at least semi-conscious by a series of electroshocks, and the take an ice pick (we kid you not), slam it up and into the brain via the thin bone of the eye socket and then move it about a bit, to “scramble” the brains. He had 3500 icepick lobotomies under his belt, and while some patients did improve, common side effects included listlessness, a complete personality change, seizures, incontinence, emotional outbursts, and, on occasion, death. But then the feeble minded have always been expendable, haven’t they?
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