How the Mentally Ill Were Treated in Victorian England

In the Victorian era there were such things as “hysterics” and they were associated with women as women were then thought to be the only people who suffered from mental illness. Mental illness was thought to be a “female malady” and since women from that era did not really have any say in what was to happen to them, they could be shipped off to a mental institution if their husbands or fathers deemed it necessary.
Patients at what were then referred to as “asylums” were often treated worse than the animals at their local zoo. Patients were often kept in small dirty rooms with no human interaction for days at a time. It was also very common for patients to be chained or tied to their beds at night while others were just locked in their rooms, rooms no bigger than prison cells. Also common was the practice to feed patients nothing but bread and water for breakfast and some form of thin broth that contained no vegetables or meat for their dinner. In this case the animals at the zoo ate better, had bigger “rooms” and had some form of interaction with humans daily.

Asylums were filled with people, many of them women who had no viable reason to be there, and many of these patients often left the asylum in worse shape than when they had entered causing some concern over conditions in the asylums themselves. Treatment of asylum patients was addressed in 1845 when the Lunacy Act was passed and along with it the County Asylum Act. Both of these acts were to work as a cohesive pair, the government would now be required to check the conditions of every asylum, while the County Act was also in place to aid in the government’s job by monitoring the asylums and to establish a network to aid the asylums.

The public at large then became aware of the conditions of these facilities and were enraged, an outpouring of support pushed the private and public asylums to the brink and many facilities were either shut down or forced to improve the conditions of their facility which included taking out the cages and bars that were used to lock patients in. This was a great time of change in the attitude that was taken towards mental illness and with this attitude doctors made plans that would help a patient rather than hinder them.