Mentally disturbed people who escaped the more horrific treatments for witchcraft were usually confined to monasteries or prisons From the sixteenth century onward, special asylums or mental hospitals, gradually took over this responsibility. Patients in institutions were usually treated like animals or prisoners, even to being chained down and given little in the way of food, light, or fresh air Then, in 1792, came a turning point. A Frenchman, Philippe Pinel, was put in charge of a hospital for the insane near Paris. Pinel made some radical changes. He removed the patients’ chains; he moved them from dark dungeons to sunny rooms; and he allowed them to work and exercise outdoors. The result were almost miraculously beneficial.
About the same time, reforms were taking place in similar types of institutions in America. One notable advocate of the humanitarian approach was Benjamin Rush, later known as the father of American psychiatry. Another energetic reformer was a retired schoolteacher from New England named Dorothea Dix. Dix took her humanitarian crusade throughout the country (and several other countries as well) and is credited with the establishment or reform of more than 30 mental hospitals.
Throughout the nineteenth century, many more state mental hospitals were founded-all on the optimistic belief that proper treatment in proper surroundings would lead to recovery. The result was a dramatic increase in admissions: by mid-century this had reached such promotions that the institutions were forced to shift their priority from curing mental illness to simply providing custodial care. Bars reappeared on windows doors were locked and the atmosphere once more resembled a prison rather than a hospital. Private mental hospitals were usually superior to public ones.
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