I came across this site http://opacity.us to view abandoned psychiatric facilities and insane asylums. These abandoned buildings fascinate me. This particular photographer (Motts) does an amazing job capturing the frozen moments in time in these insanely gorgeous buildings.
The history of psychological care in the United States has been a rough road, to say the least. It may be that it is a rather young science and advancements in psychiatric care have occurred in giant leaps rather than small steps, much like the internet. There is still a long road to travel.
Because of my fascination with psychology, I’ve taken some time to research past practices and newer practices that are just as shameful as the past.
To really understand the complexity of mental illness and the stigma associated with it, it is wise to discuss the history of the institutionalization of the mentally ill and what ailments were considered mental illness. I strongly believe that many of the practices used to treat mental illness contributed to causing more harm than good (lobotomies and hydrotherapy being more extreme). Those institutionalized were used as guinea pigs for some horrifying daily practices to further their studies in psychology as a science. The study of psychology as a science rather than a fluid, theoretical practice, accepting that the mind changes far too quickly and no two minds are the same, has done a disservice to mankind. The medicalization of society as a whole has contributed to the idea that mental healthcare can and should have a “quick fix” alternative, which is irresponsible and ignorant to believe that to be true. Although there are many benefits to treating mental illness with medication, we have advanced in our understanding of psychology that it is complex and medication alone will not fix the larger problem.
I believe many of those originally labeled “mentally ill” and housed in these institutions were a product of their environment. (I don’t believe all were a product of their environment, some were mentally handicapped and abandoned by their families. There’s also schizophrenia– something I’d like to research further.) There are many layers of the institutions. The lobotomy on patients with depression (that may have been due to their family situations- alcoholic parent, abuse, poverty, etc) or what would now be considered bipolar disorder (ie. “uncontrolled” emotional outbursts) or migraines is what horrified me most. Once the institutions were closed, those patients were left on the streets. The process of deinstitutionalization began around 1963 and peaked in the 80’s (continuing through the 90’s). Many of those people are now in prison or homeless.
Because this is such a complex issue and I’m continuing research, I’m going to break this post up into a few posts to make reading easier. For now, check out the link above (and again right there) for pictures of abandoned insane asylums. They are fascinating to look at!