As I have been reading all of the trashy Regency romance novels I can find (which is quite a lot) I started to wonder what the treatment was for the mentally ill way back when. I know that there was a lot of really crappy treatment of people suffering from a mental illness. I just wondered if there was anything that worked in the absence of today's pharmaceuticals (all hail big pharma).
In my not very extensive research I found that most Regency era hospitals for the insane were terrible places where people were treated like animals and even shown off as if they were at a zoo.
Then in 1790 a young widow and Quakeress (in the term of the times) was admitted to the York Asylum for treatment of "melancholy." Which was likely clinical Depression. Local Quakers and family members were not allowed to see her; they were told that it was a private treatment or some such thing. A month later she was dead.
So the Quakers stormed the hospital. Not really. But they did muscle their way in to the facility and were apalled at the conditions they saw.
William Tuke enlisted the help of fellow Quakers and his personal physician to create an entirely different kind of institution. They also worked with an architect to create the kind of space to suit their needs. They called it The Retreat. At first only Quakers were treated there, but it expanded to include non-Quakers as well.
The theory behind this new institution was that people suffering from mental illnesses would benefit from benevolence, and a pleasant living environment. A setting that would encourage reflection and bring them in contact with caring people.
They were encouraged to wander the gardens freely and engage in enjoyable activities like reading, doing handicrafts and art. The residents of The Retreat were viewed as potentially rational people who could rejoin society by practicing self restratint and moral strength.
Controversy reigned over the idea of housing lunatics without manacles, chains or any physical punishments. But the doctors at The Retreat noticed fairly quickly that fear tactics made their patients worse, not better.
The Retreat is still in operation today.
Quaker, teacher, parent,