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Danvers State

The former Danvers State Hospital construction began in 1874, with patient admission beginning in 1878. The detailed account of patient treatment is quite sad to think about, from hydrotherapy, to insulin coma therapy, to lobotomy, to electric shock therapy, to medication that carried some side effects like sedation. (,the%20first%20appearing%20in%201952.)

Hydrotherapy was the idea of using cool or heated water applied to the skin through a bath, pack or spray to produce a reaction in the body. Hydrotherapy might be a warm continuous bath for several hours to several days. Hydrotherapy might be a pack a.k.a. sheets that had been dipped in water of various temperatures, which were then wrapped around the patient for several hours. Hydrotherapy sprays were like warm or cold showers, used to treat whatever the patient was institutionalized for. Thinking about what these patients must have experienced is sad to say the least.

Insulin coma treatment included patients receiving increasing daily doses of insulin for 6-weeks. The patients were then revived by ingesting glucose. In some cases, they could not be revived. In some cases they were, and their symptoms may be gone. Some were only gone for a few months though, depending on the condition.

Electric shock therapy was used to induce seizures to help treat patients with severe mental illness but unfortunately in some cases was also used "threaten to control difficult patients." It has found a place in psychiatry today, when used properly along with other therapies, to help patients with certain diagnoses.

Thorazine, when initially discovered, was looked at as a wonder drug and the answer to a lot of problems that the above treatments caused. The medication quieted hallucinations and made it possible for "overcrowded institutions" to start looking for ways to return some patients to society. Thorazine made this possible in some cases. A side effect of the medication was that it caused patients to be in a vegetative state or "Parkinson's like movements." Although still used today, it is used at different doses.

So now, the big part to tell. I looked up on Snopes a while ago what was listed in medical paperwork for patients as “factors that contributed to patient illness” (which was listed as dementia, mania, melancholia) at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia from 1864 to 1889. Those factors that contributed to the illness included desertion by husband, ill treatment by husband, laziness, egotism, epilepsy, disappointed love, mental excitement, greediness, imaginary female trouble, snuff eating for 2 years, novel reading and asthma. I also know that a bunch of the facilities became Tuberculosis care centers too. Let that sink in for a second. Your husband could desert you which could lead to your "mania" which could lead to the treatments I just laid out for you. OR, if you had asthma, or epilepsy.....or what they considered "imaginary female trouble." People were left in these facilities for YEARS.

Now, I don't mean to paint the picture that ALL institutions were inappropriate, or that everything that happened at Danvers State was bad or that some good did not come from what happened at Danvers State. For example, Marie Balter was a former patient at Danvers State. She was unfortunately misdiagnosed with schizophrenia, placed on an experimental antipsychotic drug and stayed at Danvers State for more than 20 years. Marie was eventually placed on the correct medication, discharged from Danvers State and earned a master’s degree from Harvard University. She returned to Danvers State Hospital as an employee where she continued to work with those "she left behind."

Danvers State was part of what was happening in society at the time, a piece of which was the stigma of disability associated with institutionalization. In some cases, families left patients and never went back or did not have money for burial when the patients died. My next blog will deal with this portion of Danvers State.

Stay tuned Ghoulies! Upcoming Blogs: Danvers State Main Cemetery and Halloween 2020 Part deux.

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