They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That is certainly the case with these historical photographs, which were compiled from old “insane asylum” medical records. These days, the term “psychiatric hospital” is more widely used, but no matter what you call it, there’s no way to deny that our track record when it comes to the mentally ill isn’t good at all. Check out the eighteen most shocking, bothersome, spine-curling, and blood-curdling photos that have ever been taken. Just a warning, though- some of these are highly graphic and disturbing. Proceed at your own risk!
#18 “Strait” As A Board
The use of straitjackets in a centuries-old practice, though they have certainly become more humane over time. This patient is in a padded room and carefully restrained so she can’t harm herself. Nowadays, this is typically done through the use of prescription drugs. Many call this a “chemical straitjacket.” If you thought that was crazy, take a look at this next one!
#17 Smoke Break
This picture is a bit funny! This patient is sitting up in his hospital bed to sneak a cigarette break before bed. He likely had to have someone smuggle a pack of cigarettes in so that he could get his nicotine fix. Either that or he bartered with another patient for a few cigs. Things get a whole lot weirder in this next photo…
#16 Testing… 1, 2, 3
Before Institutional Review Boards and Ethics Commissions were invented, psychiatric patients provided doctors with a readily available pool of research subjects. This patient was having blood drawn from inside his eye socket so that it could be tested. That has to hurt! Sadly, most of these “research subjects” never gave their permission for these terrible experiments!
#15 Risky Business
Modern psychiatric care is far from perfect, but it’s much better than it was decades ago. Patients were forced to undergo painful procedures and experiments. One hospital was even known to perform dissections on patients in an effort to “remove diseased parts of the body.” That sounds scientific… right? Check out this next depressing image…
Here is another patient being restrained in a straitjacket. Most likely, this person was put into the device after threatening his or her own life, or the life of a staff member. Some people report that their time “in the jacket” made them feel like they were being buried alive. Yikes!
#13 In The Halo
Electroconvulsive shock therapy is still used today, but it’s certainly more humane these days! In this photo, the patient is receiving shock therapy for his psychiatric condition. He is clearly in pain and likely did not consent to the procedure. Unfortunately, treatment without authorization was standard back in the day!
This patient is held in a straitjacket and chained to a wall. He’s clearly in distress, but it is likely that he was left in this position for several days or perhaps even weeks. This is pretty sad and humiliating for him, especially considering that he entered the hospital to receive care, not neglect.
Before nursing was a regulated profession, there was no one to stop nurses from abusing their patients. This photo is a perfect example of that, with a young patient being held in a neck lock. If this happened right now, there would be a massive public outrage as every state has a law as protecting the mentally ill from abuse.
#10 Not How That Works
In the late 19th century, doctors believed that masturbation caused insanity. So, they created these male chastity belts to stop the men patients from engaging in such “risky behavior.” We’re sure there were squeals of joy when it was discovered that masturbation did not cause insanity. Men everywhere were probably thrilled!
#9 Help Me
Recently, the United States Supreme Court put a ban on holding juvenile inmates in solitary confinement. But, this wasn’t the case when this photo was taken. This patient was likely locked in this room by themselves for several days. However, many people who have undergone this kind of “treatment” report that even a few minutes seems like an eternity.
#8 Small Steps Forward
To say that the level of care offered in psychiatric hospitals has improved in the last few decades would be an understatement. Now, patients are treated with care and dignity, and advances in pharmacological therapy make it more likely that they will recover without undergoing many painful procedures. Another past-to-present comparison is on slide 17.
#7 Chief Complaint
This photo has been making the rounds on social media recently. It reportedly shows a list of reasons someone could be admitted to the psychiatric hospital. It’s a pretty diverse set including things like egotism, immortal life, and bad whiskey. Though these aren’t recognized as legitimate mental illnesses today, we understand how they could concern someone back then!
#6 Hello There
Being locked up solitary confinement can’t be fun. So, we’re very happy that this patient found a way to have a bit of fun. Still, though, being in solitary is often considered to be the world’s worst form of torture. Most people go insane within a few hours because of the silence. That sounds horrible!
#5 For Research Only
This is a photo of several samples of brain matter enclosed in wax disks. This was meant to preserve “sick” cells so that they could be studied at a later date. This practice was not very sterile or effective. Even worse, the brain matter was often taken from LIVE patients. This means that their mental status was compromised all in the name of “research.”
In the past, it was very common for psychiatric patients to have small burr holes drilled into their heads. This practice, known as a lobotomy, was meant to realize “evil spirits” from inside the patient’s brain. We’re not too sure that idea was very scientifically well-founded, but one thing’s for sure- that had to hurt! Another lobotomy picture is on slide 18.
#3 A Bright Spot
Thankfully, not everything in these “insane asylums” was horrible. Patients were occasionally provided with items that would comfort them, such as the case with this woman and her baby doll. A little goes a long way, so we’re sure this woman was very thankful for the kind soul who gave her this doll.
#2 Back to the Future
It used to be that children were treated in the same hospital units as adults. Nowadays, though, children and adolescents often receive psychiatric care in dedicated units. This ward typically includes nurses, physicians, child life specialists, and family therapists. This is a far cry from the past when child patients were isolated from their families and forced to undergo painful treatments.
#1 A Death Sentence
This photo shows a young female patient after a lobotomy procedure. The scars covering her head are reminders of the painful surgeries she just went through. This is unfortunate, as most lobotomy patients died of infection soon after being treated. That’s certainly not how we would want to die!
The “insane asylums” of the past were very clearly frightening and dangerous places. Even more unfortunately, they caused the unnecessary deaths of countless patients. Even though the condition of psychiatric hospitals has improved in recent years, it’s very clear that there is still a long way to go. However, we must remain aware of the past to prevent it from happening again in the future. Even though these photos are disturbing, shocking, and downright creepy, they serve an important role by preventing us from returning to our dangerous forms of healthcare we used in the past. Sometimes, a picture really is worth a thousand words.