Were State Psychiatric Hospitals Better 100 Years Ago?

A fundamental intellectual tenet of mine is that to have a comprehensive and ‘honest with oneself’ grasp of historical and social long term processes, history of the subject being studied should be included. George Santayana’ famous quote that those who ignore history are ‘doomed’ to repeat, seems to hold more and more power of truth the older I become.

The history modern mental health care began in almshouses, shelters for the developmentally disabled and intellectually disabled, earliest perhaps by the Quakers of the early 1700’s in Pennsylvania. Theirs was an extraordinary (and still is) ethos of charity, helping those in need and one of the original origins of the philosophy of “non-violence,” embodied in conscientious objects in our wars and taking on the needs of the shunned, ‘repugnant,’ disabled persons who frightened the average person. It is no new concept that state hospitals were built intentionally out of the ‘boondocks,’ the countryside, away from towns so delicate sensibilities of citizens were not disturbed by the sight of unpredictable persons, that in reality before the era of modern treatment in the middle half of the 1900’s NO ONE really understood beyond crude empirical approaches, i.e., “we do not know how but this medicine works on hallucinations so let’s give it for that.”

There are many, many articles, books, some films from the earliest days of the then miraculous, wondrous Brownie 8 movie camera, that record the abysmal conditions of many state psychiatric hospitals in the Western world and the US, Latin America, Scandinavia, Europe and a few other regions and countries where modest efforts at housing the chronically mentally ill occurred. For instance, it is not well known that the famous country singer, Johnny Cash, established and supported an orphanage for children in Jamaica and did so very quietly as a true philanthropist.

If it were not for Google’s miraculous search bots, I would never have come across or read the article to which I wish wholeheartedly to refer the reader. It is from this week’s edition of the English newspaper, The Daily Mail. In the usual British brutal journalistic tradition it has simply ghastly title: “EXCLUSIVE: Chained to their beds with no heat or water, and left to lie in their own excrement: How the 19th century mentally ill were sent to hide away in grisly insane asylums and categorized as ‘idiots’, ‘imbeciles’ or ‘lunatics,’

This article itself is based on what appears to be a singularly striking book with lots of old pictures of life and patients in state psychiatric hospitals in Scotland and England, entitled, ” Lunatics, Imbeciles, and Idiots: A History of Insanity in Nineteenth Century Britain & Ireland, by Kathryn Burtinshaw and Dr. John Burt.

Continue reading “Were State Psychiatric Hospitals Better 100 Years Ago?”

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Millidgeville State Hospital, History & Pictures

I had a residency classmate at my training program some 40 years ago who eventually served as medical director of this huge old state hospital. I visited it once long after he had worked there for a stint and was overwhelmed by its size and vastness of its campuses. I had never seen such a massive mental hospital facility and was not prepared for its size.

It had its share, or more than its share of scandals and periodic tales of abuse for decades and did many such state hospitals especially early in their histories before the era of modern treatment with advent of effective medications, movement beyond just ECT, or electroshock therapy for out of control mania and truly treatment resistant long-standing depressions and the addition of all the behavioral and cognitive therapy, art therapy (and that really is valuable stuff speaking as someone who in my younger stupider days, thought it was not very relevant [I was a dummy young Turk type then to some extent], music therapy, DBT [Dialictal Behavioral Therapy which is wonderful stuff], psychodrama [which is sadly not practiced in enough hospitals] and so on.

What I am leading up to in my habitual meandering style is pointing the reader(s) to a post I somehow discovered one night recently, on a sort of mixed text and wonderful pictorial history of Milledgeville State Hospital [latter called Central State Hospital in recent modern days before it closed in 2016] that is so well done I had to do this post and highlight/publicize it by offering its URL so readers could read it and marvel at this institution, its history and dilapidated kind of grandeur. I know there are those that would rankle at having the term ‘grandeur’ applied to state hospital that personally represented horrors to them or their extended families, and I understand and completely accept that sentiment as all state hospitals had their sins, tragedies, and horrors to say the least and were in ways certainly ignoble chapters in our nation’s history.

But anyway, here is the URL to the extremely well-done website that shows an enormous amount of artistic photographic effort and historical research that I think many will enjoy and as I said above, marvel at. URL: Milledgeville State Hospital in Georgia.