Mental Asylums in the Past

You learn something new every day, it seems. I’ve lived in the wonderful state of Mississippi my whole life and never knew there once stood a mental asylum forty-five minutes away from where I reside. There is a huge hospital there (just a general university), now, but after hearing about roughly 7,000 bodies being found on the campus over the course of two years, I was kind of shocked.

Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum (photo from Mississippi State Hospital)

I, being a lover of history and old buildings, looked into it. I found that the original structure was completed in 1855 and housed thousands of patients in it’s 80 year run. It was the first Kirkbride Plan-type building in the South. In 1900, it was renamed from “Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum” to “Mississippi State Insane Asylum”. After a series of events, the director decided to move the hospital to a new location in 1935, which is still there, today. I had already knew about the current location, but didn’t really look into its past. It’s now a mental facility and substance rehabilitation center called “Mississippi State Hospital”. I knew someone who had been there, so I’ve toured the place. It’s old, but beautiful.

After browsing historical information about the hospital like a kid browsing the candy section, I got to thinking about other asylums from the past and how they treated people with mental illness.

We see these movies and TV shows where there are people walking around in straight-jackets and banging their heads against the wall. We see them getting electroshock treatments and being mistreated, but is it really like that?

It may not be this way, now, but at the turn of the 20th century (even before), mental patients were treated poorly. A diagnosis for any mental illness was based on just about any behavior besides what was considered normal.

In the words of Erisea Mag:

Some other reasons, that just don’t sound right to us in this day and age, were also catered for.  For example if you had a child out-of-wedlock or if you had learning disability. Could you imagine how full these asylums would be if we still used them now and for those reasons? Separating a mother from their child just because she isn’t married? The reasons for these actions were due to religious belief, but at the time the mothers would usually end up with some sort of mental illness due to the trauma that they encountered.

I couldn’t imagine how terrible it must have felt. These asylums were supposed to care for and treat patients, but it seemed as though they were more like prisons. Due to the lack of understanding mental disorders back then, I guess they really didn’t see any other options.

I can’t remember where I learned this fact, but it goes something like, “The average college student, now, has the same stress and anxiety as an asylum patient in the old days.”

I probably would have been a patient if I were born before the 1900s.

Luckily, there is a lot more knowledge of mental disorders and better treatments in modern times. Hopefully, in the future, we will continue to learn and develop understanding for any illness, not just mental.

Meanwhile, I want to watch this documentary on YouTube about the Mutter Museum. I am a strange individual.

Love you!


Information about the Mississippi State Asylum from Mississippi State Asylum Cemetery Project.
Other information from “Mental Health Then Vs Now” by Erisea Magazine.

Featured image belongs to Mississippi Department of Archives and History.


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