Asylums in the Victorian era were few and far between. However, mental illness was looked at with very different perspective during that time. The very definition of mental illness and disability was vague and confused.
People suffering from this type of disability were viewed with utter derision and cruelty for the most part. Each asylum had its own methods of diagnosis and treatments. They range from kind attention to horrible mistreatment.
These days, learning disabilities are known to most people and the ones suffering from it are treated with patience. In the olden times, a learning disability was equated to mental illness without further thoughts. Mental asylums or institutions were also home to such people who were considered as a black mark against society due to their immoral behavior.
They were termed as moral degenerates. They mostly comprised of women from an impoverished home, pregnant women or those thought of as loose ones. The attitude towards such unfortunate women’s plight was not good at all. The same people would no longer be construed as mentally ill in this day and age.
The doctors and laymen lacked correct knowledge and information on mental illnesses and therefore cast anyone outside the realm of standard behavioural pattern as mental. There were neither medicines nor a proper diagnosis to verify the correctness of theories. Theories were abounding, but they were pretty much in the vein of weaknesses and moral degenerates.
In the former half of the eighteenth century, it was commonly believed that persons who were suffering from a mental disease were in actuality suffering from a disease of the soul. This was seen as an evil inside the body and mind of the sufferer. And unfortunately, mentally challenged people were not given proper love, patience, and kindness as they deserved.
They were caged and tied at all times. The food given to them was meagre and sometimes not of very good quality. As far as clothing was concerned, they were given scraps, enough to border on decency and propriety or very old and worn ones.
No sleeping arrangements were made and they were forced to sleep on the floors or bare ground. When no complaints were forthcoming from the patients, the doctors and caregivers continues with the same inhuman treatment safe in their belief that it deserved.
Nonetheless, it was not all bleak. Queen Victoria’s ascent to the throne was marked by a change in the conditions of mental asylums. Several programmes were put in place to make an attempt at healing and rehabilitation instead of shunning and locking them away.
Hospitals were built with a view to providing comfort and not keep those people in jail like conditions. The general populace slowly started changing it mindset to one of acceptance and tolerance.