Mental institutions remain scary to this day, but in centuries past they were truly terrible places where sane or insane lived in appalling conditions.
The sick had no chance to be cured and the sane would almost certainly lose their minds once they set foot inside.
In England, the Victorian era ushered in an age of reforming the asylums for the criminally insane as such institutions were known, but whatever improvements were made, those places were still a living hell.
The Many Reasons One Could Be Committed To An Asylum
The most frightening aspect is how easy it was to have someone committed at the time for the most dubious of reasons. It was a place could easily dump an unwanted relative with just one doctor agreeing that the person was “peculiar.”
That was enough to have someone locked up never to be heard of again.
Women could be committed with a simple diagnosis of hysteria a condition associated with the womb. And, yes, even expressing a sexual desire was reason enough to have a woman locked up.
Prostitutes or women having a child out of wedlock were also good candidates for an asylum.
Talking too much or not complying with a father or husband’s order was also a valid reason to be committed. In some cases, even enjoying reading too much was considered a sign of mental illness.
Today we have (too) many different diagnosis describing a very specific problem somebody is suffering with, but back then nobody bothered much with such things. Something vague la “mania” or “melancholy” was good enough for Victorian doctors.
At a time when prisons were overcrowded, many convicted criminals were sent to the asylum.
The conditions were similar anyway and, if they committed a crime they were probably mentally ill was the rationale, if there was any rationale behind such decisions.
At the end of the day, it didn’t matter much where prisoners were sent, nor did they pose much threat to the “real” patients. They were already in Hell and life for them couldn’t get much worse.