Victorian-era England saw little (if any) distinction between jails and mental-health hospitals, often referred to as lunatic asylums. Any person considered unfit for society was isolated in either facility, sometimes for life.
Lunatic asylums first appeared in the mid-119th century in Britain; most of them no longer exist today or have been redesigned for other purposes.
Historical records of the doctors, patients, and treatment-related activities are not available in any one file repository; much did not survive.
The remaining few documents, mainly about patients, are stored in local archives. Lunatic asylums came across as a form of improvement in mental health care, but the treatments were horrendous inside.
One of the most notorious lunatic asylums was the Bethlem Hospital, established in 1247 and rebuilt in 1676. Now known as the Bethlem Royal Hospital, it is the world’s oldest mental-health facility.
Despite the grandeur façade, the asylum was understaffed, largely unmaintained, and grossly overpopulated.
Instead of providing a safe place for the mentally ill, it was a dumping ground for the psychologically unwell to be exposed to some questionable therapies.
10 /10 An Iconic Symbol
When the Bethlem Hospital was reconstructed in 1676, it became one of the most iconic symbols of London. It was a significant landmark and attraction as famous as the London Zoo and Westminster Abbey.
The facility and what it represented would inspire dramas, poems, and countless works of art. At that time, the Bethlem was the most ostentatious mental-health facility globally.
The façade was so opulent that people began to compare the hospital and the Palace of Versailles. On the inside, however, it was a different story altogether.
9 /10 Chaos And Madness
More popularly known as Bedlam, Bethlem Hospital was the first health facility to specialize in mental disorders. The patients were often referred to as either “lunatic” or “mad.”
The nickname itself means chaos, uproar, or extreme confusion. It became quite a generic term because most mental hospitals began to be called Bedlam.
Much more than just a home for madness, the hospital was the most sophisticated representation of its kind at the time. Some people say metaphorically that the world is an excellent bedlam with all its turmoil, noises, and howls of protest.