A Case of Hysteria

The Inmates Aren't Running The Asylum

The history of mental health treatment offers a grim reminder of how early insane asylums were often used as dumping grounds for the old or destitute. One of the first physicians to spark a more humane approach to the problem was French physician Philippe Pinel, who abolished the chaining of the insane at Paris’s La Salpêtrière hospital in 1800. Patton State Hospital’s history of patient treatment mirrors the change in practices at institutions nationwide. Early “inmates” of the San Bernardino County facility did not fall under contemporary definitions of mental illness—alcoholics, drug addicts, epileptics, and those with genetic disorders such as Down syndrome, autism, and dementia were all committed. Patients underwent treatments that today would be illegal, including forced hydrotherapy, sterilization, lobotomies, and male and female circumcision. As standards of psychiatric treatment have evolved, so too have practices at Patton. However, violent patients and those bent on self-harm are still bound with arm and leg restraints as necessary.

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