Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The Care of the Insane

I have frequently noticed that a look of intense sadness distinguishes those who have much to do with the insane - doctors, clergymen, women attendants cannot throw off in a moment the gloom caused by constant communication with those deprived of the light of intellect.

"It is not because of the monotony, for the life has much variation." Said a lady friend to me, who has been superintendent at a large asylum in the country, "but it depresses one from the helplessness one feels as to doing real good. We can house them, and feed them, and keep them occupied, but we cannot restore that which is lost for ever. However, such a state of mind is only a reaction, for when at your post, I assure you, there is more to make a person laugh than cry. Their delusions are so odd, and take such unexpected turns. And remember, except on one point, many are as sane as you or I. Indeed, this curious fact often caused a difficulty with my subordinates. Many a wardroom maid has come to me with a long tale of the cruelty of keeping Miss S or Mrs. B who had 'more sense than most people outside,' and if I didn't watch sharply, her sympathies would inevitably lead her to infringe discipline, in some way, either by smuggling up food, or posting letters, or bringing in literature which excited the patent's nerves. I used often to wish that school could be formed for those who intend to take service in any capacity where the insane are under treatment, in which they might learn first a little of lunatics and their ways. So many attendants come to us expecting to find howling, drivelling maniacs, and when they only see quiet, hard-working individuals, they immediately form the idea we are keeping them under lock and key for our own pleasure, and easily fall victims to the patients' cunning.

I recollect a case where a patient with a taste for reading was always bemoaning the dead sameness of our literature, and actually induced an attendant to procure her penny novelettes. The constant repetition of suicides haunted her brain, and, though up till then gentle and manageable, she became possessed with the suicidal mania, and after four fruitless attempts succeeded at last in wilfully choking herself with the stuffing of a mattress."

Taken from a series entitled Behind Bars II The Care of the Insane - The Young Woman November 1899.

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