Mental asylums are also known as psychiatric hospitals, and specialise in treating those with serious mental illnesses, such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Modern psychiatric hospitals evolved from ‘lunatic’ asylums, but Islamic doctors were the first to treat mentally ill patients with kindness and compassion, instead of rejection and isolation. The first historically notable psychiatric hospital was built in Baghdad in 705 AD. The patients’ care would consist of music and occupational therapy, supplemented by medical attention.
In the Western World, mental illness was mistakenly viewed as being possessed, until the nineteenth century when institutionalisation became one form of treatment. These institutions aimed to provide continuous, compassionate care as it was believed that it would aid in the patient’s recovery. Britain was the first country to open public mental asylums, to house the ‘pauper lunatics,’ beginning in Nottingham in 1812. By 1845, an Act had been passed making it mandatory for every county to have an asylum. These would be inspected regularly by a representative of the Home Secretary. Each of these institutions were also required to have written regulations and a resident physician.
Unfortunately, the treatment of patients in many of these institutions was often aggressive and restrictive. Mental illnesses were split into several categories, and most patients were diagnosed with catatonia, melancholia and dementia praecox (schizophrenia). Modern psychiatric hospitals focus on rehabilitation, aiming to prepare patients for a normal life outside of an institutionalised environment. Treatment is a combination of psychotherapy and psychiatric drugs. Most patients are admitted voluntarily, but may be subject to involuntary commitment if they are believed to pose a danger to themselves or others.
There are different categories of psychiatric hospitals, and a patient is normally committed based on the severity of their mental illness. These include:
Long term mental asylums – patients remain in this environment for 2-3 years and are prepared for life outside the institution. Most long-term patients live in an unlocked ward and can sign themselves out for short periods of time.
Medium term psychiatric hospitals – these provide treatment for a few weeks, often when a patient is going through a traumatic period.
Halfway houses – these institutions provide assisted living conditions, for patients with mental illness, for an extended period.
Many psychiatric hospitals offer group therapy sessions, and this can be very helpful for patients as mental illness can be a very isolating experience. Whenever possible, mental asylums are built near open spaces with many plants, as nature sojourns can help to speed up recovery. Schedules within mental asylums vary and since mealtimes, doctors’ visits and administering medication are carefully controlled, visiting times and interactive experiences tend to be more lenient. There are also special psychiatric institutions, for those under the age of 18.