The Early Years Of Asylums In The 19th Century

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The early years of psychiatric field have provided the media with material for horror stories for ages now. Starting with colonial America, where people chained their ‘disturbed’ relatives and neighbors to the metal poles or locked them in small rooms for their entire lives, and ending with asylums, where doctors and nurses indulged in cruel behavior toward the patients, experimenting with inhumane methods of subduing the insane with lobotomy and electroconvulsive therapy. But is this picture painted by the horror movies entirely accurate? During the colonial times, ‘distracted persons’ were a responsibility of their families. While it was somewhat common to lock or chain them up somewhere in the house, it was hardly due to the cruel nature …show more content…
That year the very first asylum of the colonies was opened in Williamsburg, Virginia. Before that, the mentally ill were mostly housed in almshouses where the insane started to be separated from other inhabitants from 1729. By the end of the century, the insane were also housed in the both of the two hospitals in the United States (Shorter, 15). Between 1840 and 1880, one Dorothea Dix visited several states in order to persuade the governors into providing better care for the mentally ill; mostly it involved opening more institutions in order to house less people in the same place. Before her contributions there were only thirteen asylums in the United States. After her travels there were 123, of she personally was a key factor in opening 32 of them (van Hartesveldt). Around the time of Dix’s success, a journalist with pseudonym Nellie Bly wrote a report on treatment of mentally ill people in one of the asylums of New York City. She spent a week in a psychiatric hospital pretending to be a patient there. She wrote a book exposing the derogatory treatment of all the patients in the hospital, negligent doctors and cramped spaces …show more content…
Beers spent much of his life in mental hospitals with severe depression. After his time in hospitals between 1900 and 1903 he started writing a book and in 1908 A Mind That Found Itself was published. By acknowledging the seriousness of his condition in that book, he made an immediate impact on people. It helped to change the way people saw the mentally ill (Manon).
Though Beers’ efforts certainly didn’t stop on writing a book. In 1930 he organized International Congress for Mental Hygiene in Washington, DC, attended by representatives from 53 countries. The meeting launched international reform efforts and led to the development of the International Committee of Mental Hygiene (Manon).
The real changes, though, came in 1930s, and most of them weren’t pleasant. The ever growing amount of mentally ill people pushed scientists into trying any and all methods of curing them and freeing the hospital rooms. Some of those cures worked, some worked for entirely different ailments and some, while seemingly useful, only worsened the

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