Insanity caused by anxiety in the 19th century

Her name was Sarah Gardner, the pretty, forlorn lady on the left. At the age of 26, she was admitted to Bethlehem Hospital in England during the 1850s because she felt worthless and wanted to kill herself. Bethlehem was an asylum. She had been jilted by her fiance and became a servant in London, but the social stigma and gossip of being single and working for a man was too much for her to bear. Upon being admitted to Bethlehem, Miss Gardner felt ashamed of her suicidal feelings, and remained a patient for a few months before being released as cured. Her diagnosis was “insanity caused by anxiety” and that was the way of it for most women in her situation – insanity caused by hysteria, insanity caused by childbirth (postpartum depression), insanity caused by epilepsy, insanity caused by moral insanity (infidelity), and so forth.

Miss Gardner’s diagnoses and confinement to an asylum hit a little too close to home for me. I have an anxiety disorder brought on by PTSD. Such being the case in the 1850s, I could have just as easily ended up in an asylum instead of working through it on an outpatient basis.

Mental health has come a long way from the 1850s but it still has a long way to go. This photograph of Miss Gardner was taken because it was believed that a photograph could show the mental illness in the person. In her day, women who were not happy and pliant were put away in asylums. Today, women who are not happy and pliant are automatically medicated within an inch of their lives. I ought to know. I’ve been on so many different SSRI drugs periodically as my anxiety disorder ebbs and flows, and I was almost killed by one of them too (I’m looking at you, Zoloft). SSRI drugs feel to me like moving from one asylum to another.

Have we really come that far or is this just the current socially acceptable way to treat people with very real troubles?

(Article from the Daily Mail that inspired this blog:

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