I’ll periodically be posting 86 reasons why you may have found yourself committed to an asylum back in the late 1800s. This timeframe is a bit earlier than my novel ‘The Bird Box’ but many of the reasons would have still been used as legitimate criteria for committal.
Let me know when you think you may have been escorted through the gates to join Jakie and the rest of the characters in ‘The Bird Box’.
Are You Insane? No? Well, you just might be by the time we get to the end of the list. 86 reasons why you may have been committed to an Insane Asylum in the late 1800s.
Reason #14 – Mental Excitement
Oh, my. Woe to the lively of heart and mind. How oppressive this one is. How many fantastic creative spirits had their passion buried beneath this label? We’ve all encountered this type. The person who gets so wound around an idea or inspiration that it literally takes them over until they can bring it to fruition. (Perhaps you have even experienced this one yourself ….)
Reason #13–Menstrual deranged.
This is an interesting reason for committal. Menstrual Madness.
This one doesn’t seem too far removed from Reason #5–‘Imaginary Female Trouble’ except that it dares to specify the source of the insanity.
I think most of us women can identify a time or two in our lives when we would have been committable under this one. Makes me appreciate how far we’ve advanced in our understanding of ‘women’s issues’.
I also can’t help but feel very sad for the poor ladies who would have been hauled off to such a terrifying place as an asylum which would have only added to their sufferings.
Reason # 12 – Medicine to Prevent Conception
I find this reason for committal very illuminating. It shows quite clearly how the threat of being committed into the asylum became abused as a means to control and dictate people’s behaviors. This ‘reason’ is so far removed from any indication of actual mental distress that it is difficult to believe it was once an openly accepted reason to put someone into an institution under the diagnosis of insanity.
Reason #11 – Marriage of Son
It is hard to imagine how this could have ended up as a reason used for committal but it is indeed on the list. Perhaps an only child and a mother or father who felt themselves abandoned by a son moving forward into a life of his own.
Can you imagine the pressure and guilt the son must have felt over knowing his parent had been admitted to the asylum solely because he had chosen to marry?
We can only surmise at the details surrounding such a vague reason but it does give rise to how easily the symptoms of distress were tidily summed up as a viable reason for asylum committal. And when we consider how many of those so easily committed were to end up spending the rest of their lives inside the institutions, we can perhaps begin to understand why the Insane Asylums of the past were such feared and loathsome places.
Reason # 10 – Laziness
Oh, oh. Who of us could have avoided this one for a lifetime? No wonder people have learned to loathe laziness and esteem workaholism. ‘Sneaking off to have a nap’ takes on a whole new meaning for me now.
Once committed to the asylum this reason for entry would have proved helpful to the institution. Patients were often assigned jobs; laundry, cooking, cleaning, laboring in the fields and gardens, etc. Although for some the work would have provided an outlet and been a source of self-esteem, for others it would have been onerous and a taxing demand on their already tired minds and bodies.
Patients were not generally paid for their labors but their possible release was sometimes leveraged by staff in order to encourage their ‘willingness’ to work for free.
Reason #9 – Jealousy and Religion
Apparently in the late 1800s it was okay to be jealous or religious but ‘Holy-mother-of-Mary’ God have mercy on you if you ended up combining the two! One can only imagine where the logic was behind this reason and how many people were tidily disposed of into the asylum underneath its non-definitive title.
Reason # 8 – Imprisonment
Finding oneself put in prison back in the late 1800s probably would have been enough to convince most people it was time to change their ways. For those who didn’t get that figured out on their own there was a way for things to get worse. A lot worse. Do you see a few flickering frames of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ Nest’ playing here!
Reason #7 – Immoral Life
This reason is very telling. How on earth could an ‘immoral life’ ever have been translated as a form of insanity? Bad judgment, perhaps. Irritating and embarrassing to one’s family–certainly. But a mental illness?
Today’s reason for committal smacks hard of plain, old judgement wearing a fancy dress. I would suspect this reason would have, at times, been used liberally to control and intimidate those members of society who were perhaps just a little more free-spirited or alternate-thinking than the rest.
I can think of at least two characters in my novel ‘The Bird Box’ who very well may have been committed under a variation of this reason.
Reason #6 – Hysteria
Today’s reason for committal again seems to be one big, frightening, catch-bucket that would have provided a myriad of vague ailments to justify a person’s incarceration into the asylum.
According to Wikipedia, symptoms could range from faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in the abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and “a tendency to cause trouble”.
Sounds suspiciously like a list of PMS symptoms to me. Today these symptoms might have you curled up on the couch with your favorite chocolate bar for sympathetic support. Back in the late 1800s however, they could have seen you hauled off for a hysterectomy or even provided a viable reason for your committal into an asylum.
Reason #5 – Imaginary Female Trouble
Oh. Wow. This ‘reason’ would have been like a big empty barrel ready to swallow up any poor woman (or girl) who displayed symptoms that were beyond the scope of societies’ or the medical establishment’s understanding.
‘We don’t know what’s wrong with you– so it must be all in your head. Into the looney-bin with you!’
Although this reason is from the late 1800’s it is painfully close to the way many women’s ailments are still treated today where a multitude of symptoms are still defined as ‘women’s issues’ and quickly prescribed a liberal dose of antidepressants.
Makes me wonder how far we have really advanced with this one.
Reason #4 – Ill Treatment By Husband
I recognized the roots of this reason quite often as I researched patients’ files for my novel ‘The Bird Box’. How terribly sad to think that women were sometimes subjected to such terrible treatment within their own homes that they were forced to seek asylum in a mental institution.
This was, however, the reality of the times where an abused wife had nowhere else to turn for help and lived in a society that willingly turned a blind eye to her suffering.
We meet one such woman in ‘The Bird Box’ and I guarantee her story alone will open your eyes and heart to the injustices so often silently endured by those who were committed into the early asylums.
Reason #3 – Hereditary Predisposition
Now this reason would have had a very far-reaching and terrifying arc. Can you imagine the trepidation people would have lived under knowing they had in their lineage someone who had been committed to an asylum?
Apparently such an event would present proof of their own possible instability if they were to begin acting in ways that made others uncomfortable.
Is it any wonder that families were so inclined to hide the fact that one of their own had been institutionalized? Just when we begin to think it obvious to negatively judge the behaviours of those who willingly abandoned less fortunate family members committed to the asylums, we see that perhaps such decisions were not arrived at quite so heartlessly.
Reason # 2 – Kicked in the head by a horse.
Yes, I can see how this one could have gone badly for all concerned. I do think the horse might have needed to be committed as well, though.
I have been kicked by a horse. More than once. Different horse each time. It hurts. Thankfully I was never kicked in the head which seems to keep me free of the asylum for this week! How about you?
Reason # 1 – Intemperance and Business Trouble
These two problems were listed together so I’m assuming you had to be presenting both at the same time in order to be committed for this one. Had a bad day at work? Might want to think twice about snuggling up with a glass of wine once you get home.