The Following is an excerpt from a research paper entitled “Mental Illness in the Nineteen Thirties”. This paper was written as a research paper for high school level.

Juliana Cummings

Although mental illness has always existed in the United States, it wasn’t until the 1840’s that the government began to fund psychiatric hospitals. Being institutionalized was considered the most effective way to deal the mentally ill.   Through the late 1800’s and early 1900’s patients were often kept in restraints and would spend their days locked away in the asylum.

However, during the 1930’s, a number of new treatments were introduced. Doctors were trying to really understand what would cause a person to behave erratically.  Dr. Sigmund Freud had begun to come up with explanations for certain behaviors and in turn, new treatments were designed to help and even cure these individuals.   It was hoped that these treatments would transform and better the lives of those who were mentally ill.

Many of the treatments for mental illness were unintentionally cruel because at the time the psychiatrists firmly believed their treatments were helping and didn’t view them as crude.

One of the most humane treatments was Hydrotherapy.  Hydrotherapy was often used to calm the combative patient or those with suicidal tendencies.  Patients were often doused with water in a shower and wrapped in warm sheets. These methods were thought to relax and sedate patients. These continuous baths could last several hours or several days. Patients were placed in rooms with little light and noise and the wet sheets were kept at a temperature around ninety degrees.  Cold water therapy was often used in much the same way, with cold packs placed on the patient or the patient was placed in a shower of cold water.  Cold water therapy was often the approach used on patients suffering from manic depressive psychosis or those with “increased motor activity”.  Application of cold water slowed blood flow to the brain, resulting in decreased mental and physical activity.