Thursday, 10 January 2008

Least we forget......

The old “asylum for idiots” as they were known as, in the town where I live has now been converted in to housing. I was on one of the committees that helped close this psychiatric hospital down. I will never forget my first tour round the challenging behaviour units there. It is a constant reminder to me how even when we think how unfair our world today is to our children, how fortunate we really are. It wasn’t that long ago.

The first hospital of this kind in the UK was founded in 1247. Some people were sent there in their youth for 'crimes' such as being epileptic, an unmarried mother stealing to feed their families or becoming prostitutes to maintain their children after being deserted by their husbands. It became infamous for its harsh treatment of the insane. Visitors could come and observe the lunatics- entry to the freak shows were free on Tuesdays. Visitors could bring sticks and poke the inmates to enrage them.

As early as the 1600's witchcraft and demonic possession were also considered explanations for lunacy.
Supernatural powers were summoned to treat such persons incorporating rituals of atonement and purification.
'Lunatics' fell into one of two categories either manic or melancholy. They were treated with catharsis, which is the relief of strong feelings or tension, to expel crisis from the individual. The patient was submerged into ice baths until they lost consciousness or were given a massive shock to the brain. Treatment considered barbaric by present day standards.
Another method of treatment was the 'Bleeding' practice, which entailed the draining of bad blood from the individual. This usually resulted in the death of the patient or the need for lifelong care, Prefrontal lobotomy was also common practice.


I am friends with a few people who used to live in our local ‘asylum‘. 10 years on from the closure, their lives have much improved, and with each new generation I hope this improvement continues.

Norman Kunc has made a powerful video to illustrate this least we forget.

55 comments:

Anne Brooke said...

A terrible thing indeed - my mother's village has what used to be the workhouse too (now a hospital). The old people still live in fear of it. Another blot on the historical landscape.

A
xxx

Chris H said...

those 'Asylums" were nothing but prisons really! Thank God those days are long gone and everyone realises that no matter what, everybody has potential, even if it's just to show us how to show compassion and love to another person. I feel sad about what has gone on in the past. ignorance and fear is not the answer and never was.

Elissa - Managing Autism said...

Whilst our world isn't perfect as it is, we should be very grateful for how far we've come...

ChrisH said...

Hi from the other chrish! I come from Surrey, grew up in a town (which you probably know) with five large psychiatric hospitals now nearly all (if not all by now) converted into housing. My own feeling is that these are places soaked with years of unhappiness and I could not live there.

Blossomcottage said...

Life is without a doubt a lottery its not only when you were born, but to whom you were born too, a wonderful video and a moving blog thank you.
Blossom

Wayne said...

Some video. Phew. I'm so lucky.

Jen said...

I'm not sure that I can even watch the video...it's on my mind constantly how lucky my kids are that we live in this century.

A few months ago one of my
daughters and I watched Amadeus, and the scene where he's walking through the asylum just about undid both of us. But for a freak accident of birth in this century, there go my kids.

Of course, we still have the Judge Rotenberg Center now (sigh).

BenefitScroungingScum said...

They were terrible, but I can't help but feel we will be looked upon with the even more disdain in a few hundred years. We have so much more knowledge yet as a society the way we view those with mental health problems is not much more enlightened.
I have a great aunt who was given a lobotomy as a young woman. She's in her late 80's now. BG

MZUNGU CHICK said...

Here in Nairobi there still exists such a place known as the 'Mathare Mental Hospital' and families are quite willing to put anyone from the family with any kind of disability into there at a moments notice if they are given half a chance. Sadly there are many people in that hospital who should not be there, and many more who probably should.
Our end (as you probably well know by now after all that's been in the news lately) things are generally not very fair.

Samantha said...

It is truly horrific what they used to do to them.

Hammer said...

Some asylums are not a lot better than their medieval counterparts.

From what I've seen the group homes work a little better..

I would hope as science and medicine advance that care for these patiens will be much improved.

abstractjenn said...

I wasn't able to watch the whole video - I've seen too many pictures like that in my career in human services and it enrages me that humans could do that to each other.

What a fabulous story he has - I love it when I hear about families who ignore the doctors and do it their own positive way.

One of the community residences that I worked in housed a great guy names Sylvester. Reading his file you realized that the institution he was in was used as a drop off for his mother who was a prostitute and kept having children.

There was nothing wrong with Sylvester and he was given a frontal labotamy because his behavior was so bad.

Of course his behavior was bad THERE WAS NOTHING WRONG WITH HIM and he was locked up.

Bad bad bad all around bad

Rhonda said...

A moving short film.

Filled with gratitude right now.

Ashley's Mom said...

I have blogged about the Burton Blatt photos shown in the video, and I can't tell you how sick it makes me to see them and to see this video. But, I think the world needs to see them both, and see them often. I'm going to include the video on my blog also.

I've had the pleasure of hearing Norm speak several times. He is an incredible speaker with a message that everyone needs to hear.

buffalodickdy said...

Why this reminds me of the movie "The Elephant Man" I don't know. It was a heck of a movie, that woke me up a bit on how I percieve people. I'm glad that things are better now. Not perfect, mind you- but better than back then...

Joy said...

So strange and sad that humans could treat another human being this way.

kristina said...

Hard reading but thing that need to be remembered so we don't repeat them. Thank you-----

motherx said...

Its very frightening. Im so glad we live in this century but even now I have palpitations when I think of ever having to put my boys into residential care homes, you still hear about abuse. I know its nowhere near so bad but its still very scarey. Thats why I take each day as it comes.

Casdok said...

Motherx, its not just care homes, abuse goes on in schools, day centres etc
Apprenlty it is being reported more now. So hopefully is heading in the right direction.

Ian Lidster said...

Those hideous ice baths continued until the 1950s and possibly later in some asylums. I think a read or viewing of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest gives pretty good insights into the excesses and cruelties of the asylum 'trade' as it was until quite recently.
Good insights, dear friend.

J said...

Wow, and I recently thought I had a "bad" day. Being acquainted with history really helps to adjust one's perspective doesn't it? Kudos to you for making a difference.

Amanda said...

Hard reading but thing that need to be remembered so we don't repeat them.

The problem is, we are repeating them, all the time.

Everybody focuses on the wrong aspects of what to remember.

They act like these places are uniquely bad among all institutions, and they praise all the progress we've made, even though the vast majority of the progress is a facelift to some of the worst-looking places.

Many of these places employed torture, but so does the Judge Rotenberg Center. Why do people act like this is over when there's still places like that? Is it because the Judge Rotenberg Center spends an enormous amount of money on the decor? Is it because they are rarely "short staffed" (all the better to keep more of an eye on people and torture them more efficiently)?

And even the Judge Rotenberg Center has elements that most people are willing to acknowledge.

Disabled people always get in trouble for saying this. And I'm paraphrasing a woman with a developmental disability when I say that, and will paraphrase her again. You can't just move people out of these places, you have to move us somewhere better.

A lot of the current places, even those that look "home-like" (a real home doesn't have to), are not somewhere better.

Sure, the standard of living may be better if you check it off on a checklist. Sure, it might not offend certain people's sensibilities so much to look at.

But many people who have lived in these places know the problem with just moving us somewhere else and acting like it's all better.

It's even possible to tell if you're just visiting, if you're vigilant for the right things.

Most people aren't.

Most people don't even know what the most destructive aspect of these places is.

Even some people who've been in them a really long time don't know, because you have to spend time in genuine freedom to know the contrast.

There's a kind of degradation that you can't measure with checklists and building codes, and it is going on to this day.

It's been shoved underground, so that those perpetuating it can deny that it's even there, the families of people who live under it can't even necessarily see it, and those of us who live there can't put our finger on it.

But it is horrible.

Truly horrible.

And nearly everything bad about assorted places and "programs" stems from it.

Not from overcrowding or understaffing or whatever gets blamed these days.

Casdok said...

Thank you Amanda. Your right so many people become institutionalized, staff, parents etc and dont always see or realise what is good or bad practice. We do all need to be more vigilant and act upon it.

WesterWitch/Headmistress said...

Man's ability of finding ways of inflicting cruelty on his fellow man never ceases to amaze and appall me . . .

MY OWN WOMAN... said...

You teach me something every day. You teach me about history, life, diabilites, abilities, laughter, love; but mostly you teach me about myself and for that I am a better person. Thank you.

Mushy said...

First let me thank you for stopping by and for supporting my friend in need.

Then I want to thank you for being the kind of mom God puts in charge of special people. You, my dear, must be a special mother, and I also pray for you and C.

There was a special on the Today Show yesterday about the new book called "Strong at the Broken Places" and I found it very informative. The author is Richard Cohen, husband of Meredith Vieira.

aims said...

I'm sorry Casdok - but I couldn't bring myself to look at the video.
I spent nine months in a psyche ward and the thought of going back makes me lock my arms around the nearest solid object and refuse to let go.

Casdok said...

Aims, no need to aplogise. Sorry if my post brought back bad memories for you.

captain corky said...

I think every town in America has an abandon asylum. There so freaky and haunting. I don't even like to imagaine what went on in those places.

MMC said...

When The Moon Comes Up I Lie Awake And Wonder[Trackback]
We're also very lucky ... that it's no longer as it is portrayed in this video.

I borrowed this video from Ashley's Mom at Pipecleaner Dreams. And she in turn borrowed it from Casdock at Mother of Shrek. In Least We Forget, Casdock talks about the closure of the old "asylum for idiots" in her town...

Please go read it all. And be grateful for what we have today, even though in our hearts we know it's not nearly enough.

Ed said...

THANK YOU CASDOK,
Excellent post! I have been a patient in many state run mental institutions in the U.S. One where I was a patient was shut down after many decades of terrible abuse and the authorities said that the evaluation that shut it down found it to be the worst in the U.S. they had ever seen.

At that time this hospital had 3 employees for every patient. There was no lack of staff, funding or ability that prevented some humane type of civil acknowlegment (much less care). It was all about their attitude.

I have recieved ECT treatments and my memory isn't that good but most people who have been in these kinds of institutions will ever forget. Nor will we forget that we may all go back if things don't change.

The public can't forget because they never knew and they won't know because they won't listen to what we are trying to tell them.

Kawana Aminata Oliver said...

Good Post, People thought I got stricken by a spirit or somthing, I was just ill.

Casdok said...

Ed so sorry to hear this.
The public need to beaware - as its not just in places for people with disabilities that think they can get away with abuse but also care homes for the elderly which could affect anyone of us or our relatives.

Tom Foolery (TF) said...

Casdok, we are so so lucky to live in the 21st Century...TFX

Ed said...

Sorry to hear what?
I thought the post was for promoting awareness.
I guess that was more disillusionment on my part.

titration said...

Woh. This makes me rather speechless.

Casdok said...

Your right it is for promoting awarness, was just sorry to hear that you have had first hand experience. But thank you for telling us!

Ellee Seymour said...

We are certainly lucky to count our blessings now, but should still be concerned about the lack of diagnoses and treatment for our mentally ill.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

I know it isn't that long ago when mentally ill people were sent away. I wonder if that were still to happen today should we not have the support and advice that is available.

Crystal xx

laughingwolf said...

excellent post, cas!

in canada, they used to sterilize, or worse, anyone deemed 'unfit', even with no medical examination to prove such 'condition'!

dawn said...

What a fantastic video, it was a terrible thing these asylums , it reminded of the movie One flew over the cuckoo's nest. Which I haven't seen since i'm a kid but still disturbs me. I'm glad there are people like you in this world

Vi vi vi vooom!!!!!!!! said...

It's amazing how barbaric the world used to be not so long ago.

Christy said...

I wish we would wipe it all away but the truth is horrible things like this do still happen in places we just don't hear about. Governments whose leaders don't mouth off at the drop of a hat, leaders who allow bad things to happen and then brush it under the rug because at least they are sitting pretty. Just look at the woman in China who is in court right now because she wants to sue the government for forcing her to have an abortion at 9 months. That is wrong and sick. I'm glad there are people like you who step up to the plate and make a difference.

alan said...

They turned one of the state hospitals here into a museum, and as they tore off all the layers from the various "remodels" they finally got down to the chains and shackles from 140 years ago when it opened...

Here, the mental health budgets have been cut so drastically that they say the 1 out of 3 people in a city or county jail should actually be receiving mental health care, but there is no place for them.

There is no excuse for what people are capable of doing to other people!

alan

misha_k said...

Thank you for posting this, casdok. This reminds me of when my own brother once asked me why I don't just put J away for a year in a mental hospital somewhere and have him come back normal. I couldn't believe the ignorance of his comment and it was months before I talked to him again. It's still a sore spot for me because he has never quite gotten why it upset me so much.

Norah said...

So many reactions in the line of how nice it is to live in 'these times' and not 'back then' and how they 'used to' treat people this way. Thank god we know better now...


Would be nicer if the blog post made clear all the things that still go on in institutions for all kinds of people. Even some of the things in the blog post are still going on today: people trying to excorcise autistic people or other people who they think 'have something wrong with them'. Maybe a few links to other people's blog posts on the hub who have written about their first-hand experiences in institutions, or some of the blog posts on the JRC.

Nicki Mann said...

I used to work for a Special Recreation program, and I had a few groups for senior citizens with cognitive impairments. Sometimes you could tell, from talking to them or even looking at them, that they were severely neglected in their younger days... In all probability, some of them probably were institutionalized as children. How sad that they had to get to be 80 or 90 years old before they started getting to actually live life!

leslie said...

Powerful post today. I did watch the video and I admire that man greatly for what he has been able to do in advocating for the disabled.

cher said...

the song is amazing too.

Emily, as some know me said...

Well observed, Casdoc. I only think back about 20 years to know how lucky we are that our sons weren't born until after the year 2000.

Angela said...

Just goes to show you that change can be good. Thank goodness

LAA and Family said...

I often think about how, not too many decades ago, I would have been blamed for my son's autism and we would have been pressured by doctors and possibly other family members to institutionalize our son. I'm glad we are not in those days any more.

MOTHER OF MANY said...

Before I started my nurses training I worked in such an institution in the late 70's and I am surprised how at the time I accepted it as an OK way for individuals to live.

Annieye said...

I feel humbled and so grateful for my three healthy children. There but for the grace of God, go I.

I can't understand how any human being could be cruel, but I do know that terrible abuse goes on because of some of the things my daughter (a teacher of children with autism) tells me.

Lianna said...

Norman Kunc is amazing and his message is powerful. The images of his montage will haunt me forever. I could never, ever see my son in an institution. It brings me to tears for the many many lost children in those asylums...