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Into the Asylum
Diseases of the mind have always held a special place in the dark regions of our imagination. In this slideshow, we explore the history of how the lunatic asylum of ancient times became the psychiatric hospital of today, including how patients were treated before the advent of modern medicine. And though the treatment of patients who suffer from mental disorders has evolved considerably over the centuries, some of the stigma these people endure is very much the same.
The First Facilities
The first mental asylum can be traced back as early as the 5th century in the Middle East. Prior to that, families who had members suffering from mental health disorders just kept their ill relatives at home. Even after the advent of the mental asylum, it really wasn't until the 18th and 19th centuries that urbanization allowed for greater access to these facilities. A psychiatric hospital in Aleppo, Syria, that operated from the 14th century into the 20th century appears in this photo.
A Prison, Not a Hospital
Most sufferers of mental disorders throughout history have not been treated as patients, but rather as prisoners. This illustration depicts female mental patients chained up at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, France. Although the facility has since evolved into one of the largest hospital's in Europe, during the 18th century, the period this painting depicts, patient care wasn't high on the list of priorities for officials working at this facility.
Made in America
Psychiatric institutions first appeared in the United States during the Colonial era as a result of urbanization, according to the website of the U.S. Surgeon General. In this photo, Blackwell's Island Lunatic Asylum, built in New York at the beginning of the 19th century, was the first municipal mental hospital in the United States, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry.
A Jolt to the System
As mental health asylums gradually transformed into institutions that went from confining those with mental health disorders to treating them, psychiatrists began experimenting with different therapies for treating a range of diseases. Although drugs treating depression, anxiety, psychosis, or any number of different symptoms of a larger disorder are readily available today, early patients of the new psychological revolution did not have quite the range of options available to them. In this photo, a medical team preps a patient for electroconvulsive treatment, better known as shock therapy. Although the practice continues to this day in hospitals around the globe, its efficacy as a treatment for psychological disorders has long been questioned by the medical community.
A Surgical Solution?
The lobotomy is among one of the most brutal and infamous treatments for mental health conditions. The process involves a surgeon intentionally causing trauma to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that deals with behavior and personality among other functions. Ever since its invention in 1935, the treatment has sparked controversy over its effectiveness and sheer brutality. Many patients who underwent this procedure were left permanently incapacitated; some even died. In this photo taken in 1961, a prison official preps a convict to undergo a lobotomy.
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Hypnotism was another popular early form of psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. Hypnotism predated psychological study, but was first described in clinical terms in the 19th century. It was employed as a diagnostic and treatment tool by some of the earliest pioneers of the field of psychology, including Sigmund Freud, who eventually fell out of favor with the practice. Even today, hypnotism is promoted with the promise of helping patients with sleep disorders, nicotine addiction, depression, and a whole range of diseases and conditions.
Not all treatments are as aggressive as electroconvulsive therapy. In this photo, a painting, the product of a patient's therapy, provides medical professionals with an insight into the patient's condition. Art therapy could also be a window through which patients along with their therapists can examine past traumas or challenges that they wouldn't have been able to approach otherwise.
An Abandoned Institution
As patient care became a higher priority for mental health professionals as opposed to simply corralling patients into a facility to segregate them from society, what were once called lunatic asylums gave way to psychiatric hospitals. An abandoned asylum, such as the one photographed here known as Northern State Hospital for the Insane, still conveys an eerie quality as though still haunted by the patients who used to be kept there.
A Modern Asylum
Not all more modern facilities treat their patients with quality care and a little empathy. In 1989 and 1990, photographer Claudio Edinger traveled to Juqueri Mental Hospital in Sao Paolo State, Brazil, where his visited his grandmother, a once lively woman who had been transformed by Alzheimer's Disease. What Edinger witnessed at the facility was a "chaotic environment" with appalling conditions -- a place where many patients walked around naked in their own filth. Worse, Juqueri is the largest psychiatric facility in Latin America.
After studying the brains of violent killers, rapists and robbers, German neurologist Gerhard Roth claims to have found a “dark patch” in the center of the brain -- he calls it the evil spot, a genetic source of violent behavior.
Roth, a professor at the University of Bremen, told Germany news site Bild.de that he had shown short films to criminals and measured their brain activity. A small section at the front of their brains showed no reaction to violent scenes; it remained "dark" when shown dark scenes.
"Whenever there were brutal and squalid scenes, the subjects showed no emotions. In the areas of the brain where we create compassion and sorrow, nothing happened,” Roth said.
BioEdge, a blog dedicated to bioethics news, translated Roth's German into English: “This is definitely the region of the brain where evil is formed and where it lurks.”
Not so fast. Human behavior, affect and emotion is likely a far more intricate thing, explained Dr. Steven Galetta, chairman of the neurology department at the NYU School of Medicine.
“People look at the blood flow to one area and they say, ‘aha, this is the evil patch.’ It’s probably a lot more complex than that,” Galetta told FoxNews.com.
“Certain areas are likely important for certain behaviors, certain attitudes. But it’s probably not as simple as X marks the spot for a particular behavior.”
Roth’s study, according to Bild.de, was conducted for the German government on violent convicted offenders. He said the dark mass that he has identified appears in all CT scans of people with such records -- and taking it out ended their “evil” behavior.
Roth did not respond to FoxNews.com requests for more details on his study.
Terre Constantine, executive director of the Brain Research Foundation and the former director of the Jack Miller Center for Peripheral Neuropathy, expressed skepticism at the report, but agreed that brain abnormalities such as tumors can affect behavior.
“It absolutely can affect the brain and your personality and how you communicate. And it can make you aggressive -- not all tumors, of course: it depends where it is,” Constantine told FoxNews.com.
Her foundation, which funds research into neuroscience seeking to understand the brain’s workings, has aided research similar to Roth's with more advanced imaging techniques.
One recent study from a University of Chicago researcher studied parenting behavior. It found activity in the amygdala -- a portion of the brain connected to the limbic system -- correlated to parenting style. It “lit up” in the brains of normal mothers, while “harsh parents” didn’t react to scenes of bad parenting.
“There’s clearly differences in the brain depending on what sort of disease or abnormality a person has,” she told FoxNews.com. And many things can cause abnormal behaviors. “They’re either wired differently or there might be some disease that’s causing the brain to atrophy.”
But Constantine agreed with Galetta: Complex topics and behaviors are likely linked to other areas of the brain, rather than concentrated in one “evil area.”
“I would argue it’s probably not the only 'evil' spot,” she said. “There are other areas in the brain, there are lots of … empathy areas or violent areas or just social reaction areas within the brain.”
“This may be one of the spots, but I’d be surprised if it’s the spot.”
This article originally appeared on .
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