Light Shed On The History Of Psychiatric Abuse In Ireland

An article in The Irish Times concerns an upcoming documentary, Behind the Walls, about the history of the atrocious maltreatment of people in psychiatric institutions in that country, Revealing the horrific past of psychiatric hospitals.

In one report from the documentary, concerning year 1958, you get the following…

It was a revealing year in the context of Irish mental institutions. The patient population was close to an all-time high of more than 21,000. For many years, Ireland had led the world in locking up its people in psychiatric hospitals – on a per capita basis, it was even ahead of the old Soviet Union.

The article attributes this figure to social causes more than anything else. This number of people might not seem so startling until you begin comparing it to the numbers of people held in prisons at the same time in Ireland.

In addition to his international comparisons, Dr Brennan looked at figures closer to home, in particular comparing numbers locked up in psychiatric hospitals with those in prisons. This presents a truly remarkable picture of Irish society in the mid-decades of the 20th century, where the number of prisoners rarely exceeded 600. In 1958, the year of Dr Ramsey’s Clonmel report, this number was 369.

This is the kind of statistic that screams over-diagnosis and over-treatment. On top of this sort of over-kill, those maltreatments involved included the now mostly defunct and damaging practices of insulin shock therapy and lobotomy.

Another fascinating revelation is about how artifacts from the lives of some of the prisoners held at one of these institutions were preserved in an attic, much as were such artifacts discovered in an attic at Willard State Hospital in New York State in the United States, the recent subject of a successful museum exhibit and book, The Lives They Left Behind – Suitcases From A State Hospital Attic.

When patients died (to be buried, unnamed, in mass graves in Glasnevin cemetery), their modest few belongings ended up in the attics of the many buildings that make up the complex of Grangegorman.

These were rescued recently by a group of dedicated retired psychiatric nurses who have begun the process of cataloguing them. It is an immense job, with thousands of personal possessions – holy pictures, packets of cigarettes, lipsticks, letters, shoes, rosary beads, photographs, handbags, spectacles.

This is the kind of a history that returns the lives of people who endured much prejudice and discrimination, and who were doubly abused by neglect and cruelty, back to us. Those of us who have known psychiatric imprisonment and oppression first hand are keenly aware of the importance of this kind of a historical documentation. Psychiatric hospitals are not to be confused with amusement park fun houses despite the use to which some abandoned asylums have been put in the USA recently. In the interests of decency and humanity, not to mention accurate accounting, we need much more of this sort of research and historical preservation.

While we’ve seen films on the history of mental health maltreatment in Great Britian, and now in Ireland, I’ve yet to see any such major undertaking attempted in the USA. I know that, accompanying preservation efforts, much destruction of evidense is going on all the time. This makes the urgency and importance all that greater for preservation efforts to be made. I would also like to see one or two of these abandoned asylums made into a museum of archaic maltreatment devices and practices. Hopefully, this present neglect means we have something of the sort to look forward to in the future.

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4 Responses

  1. The movie “The Magdalene Sisters” pretty much nails the mentality of catholics in Ireland. In Australia we had “The Little Sisters of Mary” and other such catholic institutions. The idea was to save young catholic womanhood from moral corruption and the eternal hellfire that follows.

    Sure, the stupid micks aren’t the only shrill supporters of coercive psychiatry, but they are still today very significant supporters. Various other christian soldiers are supporters as well. They drive themselves, each other and their children mad with their irrational bullshit and then appeal to defects in genetics.

    Worse than being stupid enough to “believe” in fairies is to be a supposed rational medical practitioner that will pander to this bullshit for no other reason than to “earn” a living. Worse than that are those that have the gall to promote what they do.

    • There may be “stupid micks”, but there are smart “micks”, too. When you find a country that doesn’t use coercive psychiatry, let me know. I’m ready to move. I would like to see coercive psychiatry outlawed, too, but apparently we have a ways to go yet. Repeal Mental Health Law, and the Constitutions of various countries are that much less the disrespected pieces of paper they have a tendency to become.

      The Irish Catholic Church is at a low point, it would seem, due to the recent scandals that have arisen over the churches former policy of sheltering and protecting pedophile clergy. We had our’s in American, and if it hasn’t come around to strike Australia yet, it probably will do so in time.

      I’m a little frustrated in the USA because I would like to see some media coverage of the history of mental health treatment in this country rather than, let’s say, an account of the making of the movie Psycho. Psycho started a genre, slasher movies. (Most of the slashers in these movies, of course, are escapees from lunatic asylums or mental hospitals.) Hollywood is not the only place in America, nor are celebrats the only population here. There is another side to mental health treatment besides the side represented by the mental health authorities and their thought police. If anybody cared (when nobody does, well, that’s how people get locked up in the first place), maybe we could take a look at what went on in the past in these institutions, and see how really barbaric they were. Eugenics, for instance, it’s covered by printed matter, and on the internet, but as long as the subject has hardly been touched by film, many people don’t have a clue. There are all these defunct and archaic mental health practices, but look a little closer, and you can’t ignore the current practices that are harmful, and that should be history as well. I think there’s a very good reason why this material is being suppressed, and it’s the same reason why it should be exposed, it’s potential dynamite!

  2. You don’t need to be a psychiatrist, you don’t even need to be literate, to know that somewhere someone will be fucking someone and that it won’t necessarily be pretty.

    This priest pedophilia stuff is rubbish. All pedophiles have their reasons. Catholic priests fuck or masturbate with children because they lack opportunity in some areas and have opportunity in others. It’s not that hard to understand.

    All catholic priests are psychotic. Every single fucking one.

    Some think that they have collected brownie credits by listening to the mawkish ramblings of elderly women. They then psychotically rationalize that they can get away with testing god. They think that masturbation is evil so see little difference between jerking off discretely and having sex with children.

    Some of these imbeciles even pretend to think that there is something noble or courageous in what they are doing. They imagine themselves to be Abraham being commanded to kill their son. These people are morons. They actually “believe” (choose to think) that they are deliberately committing a sin which should condemn an ordinary human to being cast into the sea with a millstone around the neck. But they think that they have gained some entitlement and will instead receive a sign from god.

    These people are arseholes, every single one of them, technically criminal or not, and should be ridiculed out of existence.

    And as for the flock, the sheep … how can there be a smart mick? How can there be a “moderate” mick or a moderate proponent of fairies of any kind. How can it be that any adult would tell their children of miracles?

    What kind of a person would have children and then tell them that wishful thinking is the underlying mechanism of particle physics? If that’s not child abuse I don’t know what is. It’s not even abuse (whatever that is) it’s misuse.

    These people are having children for no other reason than to excuse the willfully lazy stupid and morally corrupt misuse of their own minds.

    And if these stupid people were the only victims of psychiatry I wouldn’t mind.

    • I wasn’t really trying to take on organized religious fanaticism in this post, Rod. I will save that rant for another time. I was writing about a documentary on the history of mental health treatment in Ireland, and complaining about the lack of any such documentary about the history of mental health treatment in the USA. I imagine the situation in Australia to be much like the situation in the USA. If you showed the kind of crackpot treatments that were used in the past for just what they were, crackpot treatments, it would be harder to miss some of the crackpot treatments that persist to the present day. It is my contention that the history of psychiatric abuse and oppression is being suppressed because that’s just what it is, a history of abuse and oppression.

      Dr. Thomas Szasz I know has argued for a separation of the powers of medicine and state, the way our constitution would separate church and state. Considering the extreme degree of medicalization that we’re beginning to see in the world, I kind of think that would be the kind of legislation that we need to see enacted. Freedom of medicine must also include holistic alternatives, and freedom from medicine, as options. Psychiatrists are more and more acting as an arm of the state, and doing so, in my view, is a bad thing. Democracy depends upon freedom, and one of the freedoms that it depends upon is freedom of thought. Psychiatry makes freedom of thought dangerious, and that tells you something about psychiatry. Shrinks and tyrants are the sworn enemies of freedom.

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