Given all the strides made in modern medicine in recent years, it can be hard to get your head around some of the depraved insane asylums that existed throughout history — and some of the horrific treatments carried out in them. Here are four facilities with especially disturbing pasts…
New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum
Given several titles over the years, this New Jersey facility is noted for carrying out some of the most archaic, misinformed medical treatments ever. Founded in 1848, the tenure of Dr. Henry Cotton — who equated mental illnesses with body infections — was behind most of these disturbing “procedures.” Acting as the director there starting in 1907, Gizmodo reports that the doctor began removing patients’ teeth after emerging research found bacteria was linked to syphilis. From there, Dr. Cotton went on to remove the stomachs, testicles, ovaries, colons, and gall bladders of residents — leading to many deaths. Not only was the teeth-pulling procedure conducted until the ’60s, many of Dr. Cotton’s practices were done wide out in the open.
London’s Bethlem Royal Hospital
When it comes to insane asylums, London’s Bethlem Royal Hospital — aka Bedlam — is recognized as one of the worst in the world. Bedlam, established in 1247, is Europe’s oldest facility dedicated to treating mental illness. However, problems began to arise in 1675 when Bedlam was overflowing with residents afflicted with everything from basic learning disabilities to epilepsy and schizophrenia. Though the early practice of rotational therapy (wildly spinning a patient in a chair repeatedly) was upsetting enough, the site’s transition to surgical remedies is what made Bedlam infamous for all the wrong reasons. According to the Huffington Post, doctors facilitated bloodletting by leeches and cupping glass therapy. Treatments were said to be so agonizing that some patients didn’t survive, which explains the mass graves discovered on the property.
Topeka State Hospital
Like Bedlam, Topeka State Hospital subjected patients to unthinkable procedures in an attempt to “cure” them. When Kansas law gave the greenlight to castrate people with mental illnesses, the Hospital didn’t hesitate to carry out the surgery on “habitual criminals, idiots, epileptics, imbeciles, and [the] insane” — some of which weren’t proven to be mentally disturbed. But it wasn’t only the medical treatments that were unsettling; reports claimed that patients were beaten and raped. According to Complex, one report detailed how a resident was “confined in leather straps so long, the skin was growing around the straps.” The Hospital ceased operations in 1997 and most of the buildings have since been demolished.
A five-part expose called “Suffer the Little Children” shined a light on the atrocities occurring at Pennhurst Asylum in the 1960’s. Though the Pennsylvania asylum originally opened in 1908 to tend to people with mental and physical disabilities, Weird NJ claims that they soon opened their doors to immigrants, orphans, and criminals without a place to go. Residents were classified using only a few categories, one of which listed them as an “imbecile” or “insane.” Though Pennhurst was home to 2,791 residents, only 200 were found to be getting any sort of education — with none of the teachers having any qualifications to educate people with mental illnesses. A scene from the report which was most upsetting included a violent patient. After this patient was found to be bullying other residents, a physician punished him with an injection that would cause the most pain. A combination of widespread neglect, understaffing, and abuse led to Pennhurst’s close in 1987.