With even a small amount of ambient light at night, the body might release the wrong amount of melatonin, or melatonin might get produced at the wrong time, leading to any number of problems.
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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.
- Exposure to dim lights when it should be dark may contribute to depression.
- Light exposure at the wrong times of day has been linked to all sorts of health problems.
- To boost your mood, it might help to give yourself some solid hours of true darkness at night.
Basking in the glow of your TV, smart phone or living room lights late into the night may put you at risk for depression, suggests a new study.
The research, which involved hamsters, adds to growing evidence in both animals and people that exposure to even dim lights at night can lead to all sorts of negative health consequences, including breast cancer, sleep disorders and weight gain.
"We've set up a link between exposure to light at night with depression in these animals," said Tracy Bedrosian, a doctoral student in neuroscience at The Ohio State University in Columbus. "If it does apply to humans, people might want to think about getting dark shades, not leaving the TV on all night long, and making sure to give themselves darkness when they go to sleep."
Major depression has grown more common in recent decades, Bedrosian said. And while there is probably no single reason for the trend, researchers suspect that light disturbances may play a part.
That suspicion is based, in part, on the simple observation that people today are exposed to far more sources of artificial light at night than they were 100 years ago. More people have computers in their bedrooms. More people fall asleep with the TV on.
Studies have also found that people who work night shifts have higher rates of mood disorders compared to people who sleep when their bodies are supposed to sleep.
To test the link between light and depression, Bedrosian and colleagues split a group of 16 hamsters into two groups. All of the animals spent 16 hours a day under bright lights. During the rest of the time, eight of the hamsters were given true darkness. The other eight were exposed to dim lights, at a level similar to the glow of a TV in a dark room.
With even a small amount of ambient light at night, the body might release the wrong amount of melatonin, or melatonin might get produced at the wrong time, leading to any number of problems.Getty Images
Eight weeks later, the hamsters that never experienced true darkness scored significantly lower on a series of mood tests, Bedrosian reported at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego.
The darkness-deprived hamsters drank 20 percent less sugar water than the other group, for example, suggesting that they weren't getting the same enjoyment out of activities that they used to find pleasurable. The depressed group also gave up far sooner on a swimming activity.
When the researchers looked at the brains of the animals, they found major differences between the groups in a region called the hippocampus.
In the dimly lit and more depressed group, there were fewer hair-like growths, called dendritic spines, in this part of the brain. That suggests that there was less communication between nerve cells there. Lowered density of the hippocampus has also been observed in people with major depression.
To explain how light exposure at night might affect the moods of both hamsters and people, the researchers turn to a hormone called melatonin. Our bodies start churning out the hormone as soon as we sense darkness, and its influence is broad. Among other roles, melatonin acts as an antioxidant. It regulates our circadian rhythms. It helps us fall asleep, and it controls the release of other hormones.
With even a small amount of ambient light at night, the body might release the wrong amount of melatonin, or melatonin might get produced at the wrong time, leading to any number of problems, said neurologist Phyllis Zee, director of the Sleep Disorders Program at Northwestern University in Chicago. Studies have already implicated problems in the melatonin system with mood disorders, diabetes and sleep disturbances.
"They're all somehow related," Zee said, "and perhaps melatonin helps explain why there is this very strong relationship between depression, sleep, and circadian rhythms, as well as obesity and metabolism."
"Light affects so many biological systems," she added. "Light is a very powerful drug for the brain."