20th Century Mental Hospitals

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Mental Institutions in the Twentieth Century

Before modern technology and medicine was created to help the mentally disabled, those diagnosed with mental diseases often lived in asylums or mental hospitals. The patients who lived there lived in horrible conditions and treatments were often brutal and ineffective.

The conditions the patients lived in were very poor. The mental hospital buildings that were built deteriorated rapidly throughout the nineteen hundreds. The institutions were filled with poor staff that did not care in the slightest about helping the insane reform (Payne and Stacks). How could a patient improve when they lived in a run down hospital with staff who don't care about helping them? Authors Christopher Payne and Oliver Stacks describe twentieth century mental hospitals as, “overcrowded warehouses for the indigent mentally ill.”. Even if treatments were effective, mental diseases would not heal if proper care was not give in an up to date facility.

Different treatments used on patients were often painful and ineffective. A few different methods were used in the 1900s. The first was a deep sleep drug that was abandoned due to it’s toxic properties (Deep Sleep Therapy). The next two were called insulin shock therapy and metrazol therapy which provoked artificial comas and convulsions. Both treatments were only temporary and forty two percent of the metrazol patients reported spine fractures because of their violent thrashings. The last treatment was called Electroconvulsive shock therapy which delivered quick shocks to the head. This was the most popular treatment but seemingly the most painful (Sabbitini). These treatments were either painful or the effects were only temporary and did little to help patients

In the nineteen hundreds, mental patients were stuffed away in fearful places and forced to undergo painful and ineffective treatments. With these kinds of treatments and conditions many patients did not fully heal. Twentieth century asylums were poorly built and not equipped with proper medicine to truly help the mentally ill.

I walked to the back entrance of Princeton Mental Hospital. The sun was peeking over the horizon as I opened the door and walked inside the clean and tidy halls. I walked quickly to the break room where the clipboards were hung on the walls that had each patient's information on it as well as the nurse they were assigned to.

When I got the break room I quickly scanned over the different assignments looking for my name. I plucked the one that had my name, Maryann Anderson, on it. I skimmed through the information and inwardly sighed when I saw the age. The patient was brand new to the faculty and less than eight years old. “Just a child,” I thought frowning. I hated this more than almost anything about my job. I hated working with the children. I hated lying to them. I hated looking into their fearful eyes and making them trust me. I hated how their screams of agony haunted me through the halls and I couldn't block out the sound. Despite all this I grabbed the ring of keys and began heading toward ward eighteen room eight.

I arrived to the door all too soon. My fingers fumbled with the ring of keys as I found the right one. I unlocked the door and pushed it open. The room was lined with dirty white padding that was ripping from the walls at the edges. I would have to talk to the boss about that. A young girl was curled up in the corner her ratty blonde hair covering her eyes. “Hello, my name is Mary. What is your name?” Of course I already knew her name I just didn’t want to scare her. There was a long pause of silence where she said nothing. For a moment I thought she was mute before she responded.

“E-Elizabeth,” She stuttered out looking up at me fearfully.

“Hello, Elizabeth. You don’t have to be scared of me. I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to take you outside. You want to go outside don’t you?” It took her a minute to respond but she slowly nodded and took a hand I extended to help her up. I had just flat out lied to a child, again. I had made this sweet innocent lamb believe a monster like me. I was despicable. I forced myself to lead her by the hand out of the room toward the butcher shop that would cut away her innocence and only leave the bones, a shell of who she once was.

Time seemed to move too quickly as we finally arrived at the hospital wing. I led her into one of the rooms, the treatment room. There was a single white bed in the room. Behind that bed was the machine that would deliver electric shocks to Elizabeth’s head. Crowded around that machine were a few doctors and nurses. She looked up at me. “We aren’t going outside are we.” When I didn’t respond she let go of my hand and began running. A doctor caught her around the waist and began dragging the kicking and screaming girl to the bed. Her eyes locked with mine. “Liar! You're a filthy rotten liar! I hate you!” Her eyes swam with tears of fear and anger as they began to strap her down. They began attaching the machine to her forehead. I couldn’t deal with this anymore. I ran out of the room not bothering to excuse myself. I didn’t run fast enough to escape the screams.

After I had taken a few hours to calm myself down in the break room I walked down to the bosses office, which was at the end of the hall, and gently knocked. I heard a gruff voice beckon me in and I pushed open the door. A rather large man was smoking a cigar at a desk. He looked up from his papers. “Hello Maryann. What can I do for you?” I took a deep breath before speaking.

“I am resigning Mr. Zahak.”

“What?” He said taking his cigar out of his mouth. “You're the best nurse we have. The patients love you!”

“There you are mistaken. They hate me. I lead them on and cause them pain and I am sick and tired of it!” I took off my white nurses cap and slammed it on his desk. “Find someone else to lie to others and cause them pain.” I then left the office ignoring him calling for me to come back. As soon as I exited the office I ran down the halls and out of the mad house they called a hospital. I was free. Free from the screams and the fearful eyes. I was not however free from the guilt and the memories. They are the things that brought me back to the asylum five years later this time not as a nurse, but as a depression patient.

Final Lullaby

The pretty patrons I used to trust,

Threw me in this hole to rot and rust.

Where is your mercy? Where is your heart?

You might as well have killed me.

Death would be so much easier.

The demons dance around me,

Clawing holes through my soul.

The shadows that remain even when light burns,

Drag me away to make me hurt.

In a dimly lighted room the shocks ripple through me.

My screams of anguish resound throughout the halls.

To the death’s cold clutches why can’t I fall?

When will my final hour strike?

How much longer till I escape this madness,

and hear my final lullaby?

Where is my final lullaby?

Please sing me my final lullaby.

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Works Cited

“Deep Sleep Thearpy.” Digital Drugs.Info. N.p., 2003. Web. 10 May 2013. <http://www.digitaldrugs.info/deep-sleep-therapy-binaural-beats>.

Harris, Ben, and Courtney Stevens. “Psychiatry’s Disappearing Past.” PsycCRITIQUES. N.p., 10 Feb. 2010. Web. 10 May 2013. <http://chrispaynephoto.com/pdf/Payne_Psychiatry’s%20Disappearing%20Past.pdf>.

Sabbitini, Renato M.E. “The History of Shock Therapy in Psychiatry.” Brain & Mind. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2013.