Category Archives: Medical treatments

Medical treatments for insanity were often harsh and punitive. They included the liberal use of narcotics. Doctors and attendants used drugs to sedate patients to make them easier to manage. Physical restraints were often used.

Which Was Worse?

Clifford Beers and His Influential Book

Clifford Beers and His Influential Book

State insane asylums are usually thought to be a little (or a lot) worse than private institutions, and that is probably true in many cases. Private asylums had a bit more freedom in accepting patients and in hiring staff, and that was often reflected in the their general atmosphere and the treatment of patients. However, private institutions could have their own problems. Continue reading

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A Delicate Balance

Southwestern Lunatic Asylum, Marion, Virginia

Southwestern Lunatic Asylum, Marion, Virginia

Superintendents at insane asylums had every incentive to cure patients, since high cure rates brought both prestige and validation to their institutions. This is one reason that they urged families to get their loved ones into an asylum quickly, before the mental illness became established and more difficult to alleviate or cure. Continue reading

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Water Treatments

Continuous Bath Room, Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital, 1918, courtesy Kalamazoo Public Library

Continuous Bath Room, Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital, 1918

Patients entering an asylum were frequently given sedatives or tonics, depending upon their physical state, as well as a strong laxative to clean them out. Warm baths were thought to be calming and were frequently prescribed for agitated patients.  Continue reading

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Water Therapy

Taking the Waters at the Columbian Springs

Taking the Waters at the Columbian Springs

Water therapies, known collectively as hydrotherapy, were popular forms of treatment for insanity. Most people today have relaxed under the influence of a warm, soothing soak in a tub, but it is interesting to note that bathing for health or medical reasons was popular long before bathing as a sanitation practice became nearly universal. Continue reading

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Gender Inequality

Portrait of An Insane Woman, Hugh Welch Diamond, 1852

Portrait of An Insane Woman, by Hugh Welch Diamond, 1852

Treatment for mental disorders was generally hit-or-miss in most insane asylums, and many superintendents embarked on experimental procedures simply because there weren’t any reliable ways to help patients. Some treatments were more bizarre than others, and unfortunately, some of the treatments aimed at female patients were based on mistaken physiology-based causes of insanity. Continue reading

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Asylum Adjustment

Wet Sheet Pack, 1902, Used to Calm Patients

Wet Sheet Pack, 1902, Used to Calm Patients

No one could be pleased to find him or herself unexpectedly in an insane asylum (see last post) and it is remarkable that so many patients (who later wrote about their experiences) managed to stay calm enough to protect themselves. Patients able to keep their cool and observe the situation quickly saw that protests did them no good, nor did stubbornness or resistance in any form. Continue reading

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Focus Of Inspections

Interior, First Floor, Staircase and Gallery, Welfare Island, Insane Asylum, New York, New York County, courtesy Library of Congress

Interior, First Floor, Staircase and Gallery, Welfare Island, Insane Asylum, New York, New York County, courtesy Library of Congress

The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was inspected many times throughout its life. However, inspectors tended to focus on “things” rather than people. In a January, 1912 report that discussed some sewer problems at the asylum (see last post), Inspector Jacob Breid also discussed–in detail–the physical condition of the building. Continue reading

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The Chronic Insane

Outagamie County Asylum for the Chronic Insane, Wisconsin, circa 1889

Outagamie County Asylum for the Chronic Insane, Wisconsin, circa 1889

Alienists stressed that the prompt treatment of insanity was imperative to a cure. They cautioned the public that it was far wiser to bring an afflicted person to an asylum for a cure as soon as possible, rather than let the patient languish at home for years until an asylum became a last resort. By that point, the disease might have too strong a hold and never be shaken. Continue reading

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Evolution of Treatment for the Insane

Dr. Benjamin Rush's Tranquilizing Chair, courtesy National Library of Medicine

Dr. Benjamin Rush’s Tranquilizing Chair, courtesy National Library of Medicine

Most modern readers would consider the mid-1800s a fairly rough and rugged period, inhabited by correspondingly rough and rugged individuals. However, changes in the treatment of insanity during this period point to the idea that people in the middle 1800s believed they had declined from the vigor of their ancestors. Continue reading

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New Ideas

Chest Treatment With Electrostatic Generator

Chest Treatment With Electrostatic Generator, circa 1908

Food was not the only way to treat physical illnesses (see last few posts), though healthy eating may have been the least harmful way to ward off sickness.

The turn of the 20th century saw many innovations and experimental treatments by physicians who were working on new ways to help patients. The August, 1907 issue of The New Albany Medical Herald monthly journal ($1/year for a subscription) reported that:

A Tuberculosis Sanitarium

A Tuberculosis Sanitarium

“[Dr.?} Stuver has used galvanic electricity with splendid results in chronic rheumatism.

 

He uses a current of from 6 (?) to 20 mp. for a person, 20 minutes to a half-hour and says that the results are better if a thin layer of cotton, wet with a solution of cocaine, is placed under the positive pole.”

Tuberculosis Patients at J.N. Adam Memorial Hospital in Buffalo, NY, courtesy Edward G. Miller Library, University of Rochester Medical Center

Tuberculosis Patients at J.N. Adam Memorial Hospital in Buffalo, NY, courtesy Edward G. Miller Library, University of Rochester Medical Center

Another article in the same issue concerned the treatment of tuberculosis. The writer, a Dr. Thos. P. Cheesborough, from Asheville, NC, noted  that he usually received patients who were far along in the condition, due to their home physicians either missing the diagnosis entirely or being reluctant to tell their patients the bad news about their health.

 

Dr. Cheesborough then says, “One of the greatest disadvantages that I have found in treating this disease is that the poor unfortunate, when at last his disease has been diagnosed, and he has been sent from home and its comforts, has been advised by the home physician not to consult anyone here, but to exercise and drink whisky and to come home in a few months cured.”

Obviously, medical care could sometimes be hit or miss.

 

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