Not Just an American Horror Story

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Look, I’m the first to admit that I watch next to no television. It’s just not my thing. That said, the titles of the various incarnations of American Horror Story have always intrigued me (not sure why.) So guess which one really caught my attention (cue The Jeopardy Theme). What is “American Horror Story: Asylum?” If you wagered a million bucks, then congrats! You’re a millionaire.

I’ve spoken out on what it’s REALLY like in the hospital setting since all we ever see or hear about are horror stories (yes! I connected it to the title. Go me!) We never hear the good. We never hear about the realities of the experience or the hard working, ridiculously patient staff. We don’t hear the success stories. All we get is bad. Bad. Bad.

So what did I decide to do with all my non-TV time? Research the history of behavioral health wards or the Artist Formerly Known as the Psych Ward or the Puff Daddy of it all, the Insane Asylum. Mind Blown.

The first psychiatric hospitals began in the Middle East in Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus. They included stuff we preach out here all the time including music therapy. Music therapy people! In the 700s!!! The Muslims were on the cutting edge of mental health 1300 years ago.

Europe’s oldest mental health institution was called St. Mary’s of Bethlehem and later became known as Bedlam. You know, like the saying, “IT WAS BEDLAM” meaning it was madness. Oh it gets better…the hospitals were originally called lunatic asylums because they treated people who suffered from lunacy. Pliny the Elder (never wrote THAT before) believed that lunacy was caused by the moon; that it would bring about changes in emotions when the moon was full. Well, Pliny, I agree! Night totally affects serotonin levels and mood changes so rock on with your 70AD self.

Oh, it gets better. During the Age of Enlightenment, we are talking the early 1700s, the attitude towards people with mental illness began to change from keeping them away from society to treating them for their illness. In fact, the Lunacy Act of 1845 in England switched the status of people from MENTALLY ILL to PATIENT. Wow! Patient. Like they are actual people.

And women were pioneering the work here in the States. Dorothea Dix led the way for the establishment of state hospitals in the 1800s and Nellie Bly, went undercover as a patient with mental illness, to document the mistreatment of those under hospital care. I could go on all day. So why am I writing about all of this in 2016. Because not much has changed.

Mood changes were discussed as early as the 70s (and not the era of KC and the Sunshine Band). Hospitals were established in the 700s. Patient status reform came as early as the 1700s. And yet, our treatment options are still in the early stages. Medication is still in it’s infancy. We wouldn’t expect a heart patient to try 35 different combinations of medication BEFORE he starts to feel healthy. We wouldn’t discharge a liver transplant patient without a whole regimen of care and future appointments already in place. And there’s still the stigma of it all. The fear people have when they hear the term “mental illness,” as if it automatically means dangerous.

Why do you think we are still in the dark ages when it comes to mental health? Why is there still discrimination? Why are we (well, they) are afraid to openly talk about mental illness? There were more advances in mental health in the 700s than there were for heart, liver, lung or most other illnesses. Yet, their treatment now is cutting edge while we still struggle. Is it because the brain is so intricate? Or perhaps it’s because something deeper? Hmm…


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