JF Ptak Science Books Post 1348
Two short tales of attending the needs of the mentally ill in the 19th century: asylum journals and treatment of mania via music.
In the world of the treatment of the mentally ill, or of the possibly "deranged", or the poor confused, or the old and demented, or the depressed of all ages, there have been some uncommon instances of creativity and rehabilitation in the constrained early days of warehousing patients, or inmates. One example of this was the newspaper/journal called The Opal, which was published--extraordinarily--for ten years (1851-1860, in ten volumes and 3,000 pages) by the inhabitants of the State Lunatic Asylum of the State of New York at Utica. This illustration--which is so far as I is (unfortunately!) the only image in the journal and is repeated month-to-month--depicts, I guess, the editor of the journal, in a cell, and with a terrified or manic or at least sharp-eyed thousand-yard gaze. It is an unusual statement by the artist, perhaps, that the stone wall behind the editor's bars look somewhat like the books bound with raised bands that are on the inside of his cell. I'm uncertain as to whether this was a message, or whether this picture is just a picture. But it is certainly odd to draw such a portrait of the editor of The Opal--greasy hair, sunken eyes, mouth ajar, crazy-gaze, and hardly very sympathetic.
And the title page of the journal:
Given the time, it is remarkable that such an enterprise occurred and lasted as long as it did. It must have been an extraordinary aid to the people in Utica, allowed an avenue to express themselves, allow for creativity, allow for some independence of expressive thought It was put loud and clear in the volume for 1854, on page one, in a bit called "A Message to Our Patrons": "Forty-eight months [that's four years since the beginning of the journal] have vibrated their moments on the engagements and extensions of the Opalians. The divine art of printing has conveyed through numerous and constant agencies the heraldry of Asylumian intellect, and in the varied developments of society, our paper hath been insinuated by the gentleness of humanity, and reciprocated in a fourfold state the harbingers of progression in kindness by exchanges, whose opening leaves hath borne refreshment from the wines on the lees of humanity, well refined by the studied graces of purity, sense, discretion and knowledge, to the great comfort of this retirement, hallowed by the superintendence of wisdom and virtue1."
The italicized "our paper" appears int he original.
And this example of trying to step somewhat beyond the modicum of dispensing agents for settling a "maniac"--a person it seems suffering from a manic stage. Doctors and attendants tried to treat the patient with an assortment of narcotics, but they didn't work; very liberal applications of btrandy occurred, which caused some sleepiness, but after two days the man woul dbe getting sleepy, anyway. And then came the desperate measure (so to speak): music. It was certainly nothing new, really, the calming effets o fmusic having been know deep into antiquity. Why it was not mor eliberally applied in mental institutions, I don't know. The case and description are found in the American Journal of Insanity (later the American Journal of Psychiatry) for 185 8:
"The symptoms indicated, as it seemed, the prompt use of narcotics. Morphine was therefore given in doses gradually increased, till at the end of 48 hours, 3 gr. at a time, with strong laudanum injections, had been administered. This treatment seeming to have little or no effect, was abandoned and other means, such as baths, counter irritants, stimulants, djc &lc, resorted to, with but slight amelioration of the alarming symptoms. The patient had now continued in this state three days and nights, without sleep, and with little or no food. Pulse much of the time 120. Countenance anxious and sunken, presenting every appearance in fact, of approaching final prostration. Of the means above mentioned, the administration of brandy, in often repeated and large doses, seemed to act most favorably and effectually. Under its use the pulse came down to about 100. The patient also became more quiet* and manifested a slight disposition to sleep.
"At this time, it was suggested by the father, that his son had always manifested a remarkable fondness for music, and that when a child, sleep had often been produced by it. A violin player was accordingly sent for, and the effect of his art tested upon the patient, with the most remarkable and immediate favorable effects. The nervous excitement began to abate at the sound of the fiddle, and in a very short time, the patient was in a sound sleep, from which he awoke in an hour or two much refreshed and nearly rational. By continuing the brandy, and when nervous excitement began to manifest itself, an occasional quietus from the fiddle, this singular state of mental excitement was, in a few days, entirely and permanently subdued."
In general, the 1850s were not a good time to be in a mental institution in the United States--or anywhere else for that matter. There were 3700 people or so institutionalized in America at the time of the two stories (above). It was really just about at this time that a national effort began to be organized to treat the institutionalized people more as patients than as inmates.
1. "In the diffusion of thought by the arts, its curiosity and character are enhanced by the manner in which it is communicated; and the respectful interchange of sympathy, and of emotions incident to nature that assimilate and affiliate the multiform interests and conditions of the human kind are so promoted by interchanges as to excite a brotherly regard for the correspondences, and a desire to advance their intelligences anew, when apprehended as the instrumentality of reasonable reliances."
I have no care for copper or coin,
I have walks to take, and news to read,
When ill, we have nurses; kind they be,
Though sad, we may wait till brighter we grow,
And Love may abide, defended by prayer,