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Drawings of ‘mental illnesses’ from 1840

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“Female patient suffering from erotomania, 1843.”

Science is a bit like Doubting Thomas—it has to see the evidence before believing it. And sometimes even then it is just theories about what was or was not seen.

Way back in the early 1800s, many scientists thought it an idea to use visual representation, through illustrations and engraving, to help codify the system of identifying say, organs, bones, types of disease, and even mental illness. For example, a drawing of someone suffering from buboes caused by the pox would help diagnose a patient with similar buboes also caused by the pox. It was a logical, well-intended, and noble idea, one that helped create the many books on anatomy and disease which progressed the development of medicine from the 1700s on—most notably Gray’s Anatomy in 1858.

The physician and alienist, Sir Alexander Morison (1779—1866) pioneered the documentation of psychiatric illness during the early to mid-1800s. An “alienist” is the archaic term for a psychiatrist or psychologist. Morrison was inspecting physician at the Surrey Asylum and Bethlehem Hospital. He excelled in the diagnosis and treatment of those poor unfortunate people who suffered from mental illness. He was a wise and kindly old gent, who wrote two texts of great importance on psychiatric illness—Outlines of Lectures on Mental Diseases (1826), and Cases of Mental Disease, with Practical Observations on the Medical Treatment (1828). But these were but a warm-up for his illustrated volume The Physiognomy of Mental Diseases in 1840.

The Physiognomy of Mental Diseases contained descriptions of the various types of mental illness, case studies of various patients from a selection of England’s psychiatric hospitals, and some possible treatments. At the time, psychiatric care was going through a much-needed overhaul, with patients being treated as suffering from a (possibly) curable disease rather than being written-off as possessed by demons or just too fucked-up to no longer defined as human and dumped in bedlam where they were often exhibited to the amusement of the paying public. Morrison devised (whether by himself or in collaboration is unclear) the idea of illustrating his book on The Physiognomy of Mental Diseases with a series of portrait engravings of the patients whose case studies he was describing. It was a very useful idea.

However, it does suggest that mental illness can always be identified through a patient’s facial expressions—as if there are certain universal physical attributes that define all types of mental illness. Moreover, such drawings were open to possible caricature with artists exaggerating certain facial tics or expressions which may or may not be relevant. Morrison’s approach was valued until the 1850s, when the photograph was deemed to be the more scientific and reliable choice for documenting mental illness by his successor at the Surrey Asylum, the physician and pioneering photographer Hugh Welch Diamond.
 
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Portrait of 20-year-old female mental patient.

 
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More engravings from ‘The Physiognomy of Mental Diseases,’ after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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05.15.2017
11:51 am
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Documenting madness: Female patients of the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum

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Among the early pioneers of photography in the 1800s was a middle-aged English doctor called Hugh Welch Diamond, who believed photography could be used in the diagnosis and treatment of the mentally ill. Diamond first established his medical career with a private practice in Soho, London, before specializing in psychiatry and becoming Resident Superintendent of the Female Department at the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum in 1848—a position he held until 1858. Diamond was an early adopter of photography, taking his first portraits just three months after Henry Fox Talbot licensed his “salt print” process for producing “photogenic drawings.” As a follower of “physiognomics”—a popular science based on the theory that disease (and character) could be discerned from an individual’s features or physiognomy—Diamond believed photography could be used as a curative therapy.

In documenting madness, Diamond was following on from his predecessor at Surrey County, Sir Alexander Morison who had produced a book of illustrations by various artists depicting patients at the asylum called The Physiognomy of Mental Diseases in 1838. Diamond believed the book was not scientific as the drawings were mainly illustrative interpretations of what the artist saw and could therefore veer towards caricature. He believed that the camera was the only way in which doctors could document illness without taint of prejudice:

The Metaphysician and Moralist, the Physician and Physiologist will approach such an inquiry with their peculiar views, definitions and classifications—The Photographer needs in many cases no aid from any language of his own, but prefers to listen, with the picture before him, to the silent but telling language of nature.

Between 1848-58, Diamond photographed the women patients at Surrey County, taking their portraits against a curtained wall or canvas screen. He became convinced he was able to diagnose a patient’s mental illness from their photographic portrait and then use the image as a therapeutic cure to sanity—the idea being the patient would be able to recognize the sickness in their features. As evidence of this, he cited his success with one patient who he had used the process on:

Her subsequent amusement in seeing the portraits and her frequent conversation about them was the first decided step in her gradual improvement, and about four months ago she was discharged perfectly cured, and laughed heartily at her former imaginations…

Convinced he had found a possible cure to mental illness, Diamond presented a paper “On the Application of Photography to the Physiognomic and Mental Phenomena of Insanity” to the Royal Society of Medicine in May 1856, in which he explained his theories. While many scientists and doctors saw the merit in Diamond’s propositions, they were eventually dismissed as “pseudo-science,” “snake oil” and “quackery.” However, the belief in physiognomy as a form of scientific empiricism was developed by police detective, biometrics researcher and inventor of the mugshot, Alphonse Bertillon, who devised a system of anthropometry for classifying criminals. This was later dropped in favor of fingerprinting and later DNA.

Diamond’s ideas on the diagnostic and curative nature of photography have long been discredited, however, he is now best remembered as a pioneer of psychiatric photography.

During his time at Surrey County, Diamond was able to document most of the female patients as the asylum was a public institution, which meant the patients had no rights to privacy. It’s interesting to note that when he left Surrey for a privately run asylum in Twickenham, Diamond was not permitted to take patients’ portraits. The following is a selection of Diamond’s portraits of the patients at Surrey County Asylum, more can be seen here. Alas, I was unable to find details to the identities of the sitters or their illnesses.
 
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More portraits after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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06.17.2015
10:29 am
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Portraits of inmates from a ‘Lunatic Asylum,’ 1869

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In 1796, Quaker businessman and philanthropist William Tuke opened the Retreat in York, England, for the care of the mentally ill. Prior to this, those with mental health or behavioral issues were treated worse than the most heinous criminal—they were usually locked-up in bedlams, imprisoned in cells or chained to walls in workhouses. As a Quaker Tuke believed in the sanctity of life and of behaving kindly and morally to all humanity. This led him to build a hospital for the care of those suffering from mental health problems. At first, the Retreat was only open to fellow Quakers, but it soon opened its doors to all.

The Retreat changed the way mental health was treated in England, and in 1818 the first of four hospitals, the Stanley Royd Hospital in Wakefield, was built under the aegis of the West Riding General Asylums Committee. A further three hospitals were built between 1872 and 1904—the South Yorkshire Asylum built in Sheffield, the High Royds Hospital in Menston and the Storthes Hall built in Kirkburton—which became villages for patients and all four hospital together formed the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum.

Inspired by the Retreat, the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum pioneered the care and treatment of the mentally ill during the Victorian and Edwardian era. Gone were days of brutality and fear. Patients were cared for as best as was then able and according to the available medical advice. It may seem strange and harsh to us today—especially the use of confinement cells to hold some violent, paranoid and delusional patients—but in relative terms, our treatment of the mentally ill will no doubt be seen as harsh by future generations.

These hospitals were open to all who needed treatment, and by the late 1800s, the demand for support from the impoverished and mentally ill outstripped the number of places available, leading to more hospitals built. By the turn of the 1900s, with the rise of psychiatry and the “tendency to herding and regimentation” asylums “lost much of their early high ideal of individual concern and care.” Standards basically fell, as the patients greatly outnumbered staff, leading to inadequate care, which didn’t change until later in the 20th century and the beginning of the National Health Service.

This selection of portraits show patients of varying ages from the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum in 1869. Some of the pictures detail the patient’s illness—“organic dementia,” “general paralysis of the insane,” “imbecility,” “simple mania,” “consecutive dementia,” “mono-mania of pride,” “mania of suspicion,” “chronic mania,” “mono-mania of pride,” “acute melancholia” and “senile dementia”—but each photograph tells its own sad tale.
 
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More inmate portraits, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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03.17.2015
11:46 am
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America’s abandoned insane asylums
07.26.2013
10:11 am
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H. H. Richardson Complex/Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, Buffalo, New York

In the U.S. prior to the early 1960s there was a government-run system of mental institutions, some housed in grand Gothic Victorian buildings with impressive grounds. Following changes in psychiatric treatment and the deregulation and privatization of the mental health industry, many of these structures were simply abandoned. For decades they have stood empty, too expensive to demolish. The Kennedy administration planned to act on recommendations from the National Institute of Mental Health to replace these asylums with 2000 outpatient community mental health centers (one for every 100,000 people) by 1980, only a fraction of which were ever built.

Photographers have captured these old asylums in varying states of decay.

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Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, Trenton, New Jersey

According to The Kingston Lounge blog:

Many of the patient rooms in the central wing [at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital] still contain beds and furniture, and in the northern wing, many still contain belongings. This suggests relatively rapid abandonment, and the fact that apparently usable beds, refrigerators, and other furniture and appliances were not removed for use in other buildings or state facilities helps to confirm this.

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Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, Weston, West Virginia

This West Virginia asylum is now a tourist attraction, hosting ghost tours, historical tours, an asylum ball, and stage production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. According to the official website, “The Asylum has had apparition sightings, unexplainable voices and sounds, and other paranormal activity reported in the past by guests, staff, SyFy’s Ghost Hunters, Ghost Hunters Academy, the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Paranormal Challenge.”

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Overbrook Asylum/Essex County Hospital Center, Cedar Grove, New Jersey

Weird New Jersey describes Overbrook Asylum:

The hospital was laid out at the bottom of a hill atop which sat the Mountain Sanatorium – a facility used at various times to treat tuberculosis patients, wayward children, and drug abusers. These two facilities, and the many abandoned buildings associated with them, became Essex County’s most legendary location, home to escaped lunatics, troubled ghosts, and roving gangs of ne’er do wells. For a generation of North Jersey teens, a visit to the Overbrook site was a rite of passage – going to “The Asylum,” “The Bin,” or “The Hilltop”, as it was called by various gangs of teens, was a surefire way to test your mettle and impress your friends.

Unlike other abandoned asylums with patients’ personal possessions scattered all over the building, the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane in New York unwittingly maintained a goldmine for historians. The hospital kept the unclaimed suitcases of all patients who passed away there from the 1910’s to the 1960’s. When the facility closed in 1995 hundreds of intact suitcases were discovered in a locked attic space. These have been preserved by the New York State Museum and added to its permanent collection. Photographer Jon Crispin was permitted to document each suitcase’s contents, resulting in a fascinating but melancholy series of photos of patients’ personal items. You get the feeling most people assumed they would only be staying at the asylum temporarily.

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Preserved suitcase of a mental patient at the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane, New York

Crispin said:

Originally, doctors thought that all you had to do was remove people from the stresses and strains of society, give them a couple of years to get their life together, and they’d get better. Eventually people realized they needed facilities where patients could come and never leave. There’s some question as to whether or not the patients themselves packed their suitcases, or if their families did it for them. But the suitcases sent along with them generally contained whatever the incoming patient wanted or thought they might need.

Overbrook Asylum, Cedar Grove, New Jersey, below:

Via io9, Kingston Lounge, and Collectors Weekly.

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright
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07.26.2013
10:11 am
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