Tag Archives: Insanity

Proven Ways to Keep a Troublemaker Quiet

Historically, the treatment of the insane has been riddled with abuse, neglect, and indifference. Restraints were particularly abused, as attendants restrained patients for a variety of reasons: sometimes for safety, sometimes for convenience, and sometimes for punishment. Below are a few popular methods:

1. The crib was a box with a cover and crossbars in which a patient had to lie. Often called a Utica crib for the asylum where it originated, this device was discontinued around 1887.

2. A straitjacket is a shirt-like garment with extra-long sleeves that can be tied at the back of the wearer, whose arms are criss-crossed in front. Many times the ends of the sleeves were sewn shut. Wearing a straitjacket for any length of time can cut off circulation to some extent.

3. Leg locks and chains secured patients to walls and chairs.

4. Dr. Rush developed a tranquilizing chair that restrained an agitated patient in order to slow down the flow of blood.

5. Leather muffs restrained hands by enclosing them in a tight one-piece leather cover. The patient’s hands might be placed in front or in back.

6. A restraining sheet was a fabric sheet with fasteners along the sides. Each fastener was secured to a portion of the bed frame, with the prone patient confined to the space between the mattress and the sheet.

Locking Glove

Locking Glove

Patient In Straitjacket

Patient In Straitjacket

Rush's Tranquilizing Chair

Rush's Tranquilizing Chair

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Rush's Tranquilizing Chair

Rush's Tranquilizing Chair

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Utica Crib

Utica Crib

Isolation Cell used in Kew Asylum, Victoria, Australia about 1870

Isolation Cell used in Kew Asylum, Victoria, Australia about 1870

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Insanity and the New Century

Among Other Ingredients, This Patent Medicine Contained Bromides, Chloroform, and Alcohol

Among Other Ingredients, This Patent Medicine Contained Bromides, Chloroform, and Alcohol

At the time Canton Asylum opened, insanity was still rather fluid in both its diagnosis and treatment. Alienists (the early term for mental health professionals) didn’t really know what caused insanity or how to cure it, and the U.S. was by no means on the cutting edge of research. Alienists thought that anything from sudden shocks, masturbation, epilepsy, female troubles, overwork or too much study, and a myriad of other factors could bring on mental troubles.

Treatment could be pretty much anything doctors wanted to try, and there were few protections for patients. Doctors routinely gave patients compounds of arsenic and mercury, and just as routinely shocked, shackled, and force-fed them. Outside the asylums, citizens self-medicating for “nervous” problems could imbibe various cocaine, opium, or cyanide-laced tonics, sip on Hostetter’s Bitters (32% alcohol), or down Sensapersa tablets (containing cannabis).

Americans were anxious to relieve mental suffering, but didn’t know enough to do it effectively and safely. Even with the best of intentions, medical men could wreak great harm on their patients.

Read this interesting article from 1902, which gives advice on how to advertise patent medicine.

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