What Life Was Like for the Mentally Insane in 1938 (PHOTOS)

Whenever anyone mentions a psych ward, the first thing that usually comes to mind are images of the mentally insane who reside there.

Schizophrenics, depressives, and those unfit for society; many of whom spent their entire lives inside a hospital.

Psychiatric care in the 1930s was very limited. Hospitals were also extremely overcrowded. By 1940, there were around one million patients locked up, with the population growing by 80 percent each year.

Back in these days, when you heard that someone was taken away to the loony bin, you rarely ever heard of them ever getting out.

Psychiatrists attempted to treat patients with sedatives, as well as trying various mind-body therapies, including hydrotherapy (hot or cold baths for hours at a time), lobotomies and electroshock therapy. It was a living hell for many, especially those confined to straight jackets for prolonged periods of time or forced to undergo horrific treatments.

One of the most infamous of these psych wards was Pilgrim State Hospital on Long Island, the largest psychiatric center in the world.

“It was basically a city,” said Pilgrim State Museum Curator Al Cibelli. “Their own police department, fire department, general hospital…no one needed to leave the grounds.”

At one point, there were over 13,500 patients and 4,000 employees that called this location home.

In 1938, Alfred Eisenstaedt visited this asylum and captured images for TIME. The Pilgrim State Hospital photos above showcase the bleak world the mentally insane faced on a daily basis.

Images: ALFRED EISENSTAEDT—TIME & LIFE PICTURES/GETTY

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