Ten Days in a Madhouse

Posted on May 16, 2012 by Jack Kelly
Tags: librivox

I haven’t listened to audiobooks for a while. We are unable to listen using headphones when on voyage (for safety reasons - to avoid missing alarms and so on) and I haven’t been doing much walking/running when ashore. I just finished listening to Ten Days in a Madhouse It’s fairly short, and I was able to listen to it in a single session.

The work is based on an investigative journalist called Nellie Bly, who in 1887 arranges to get herself committed to a mental asylum in order to describe life on the inside. The audiobook format makes the story more personal and gives it greater impact.

Nellie initially feared that she wouldn’t be able to convincingly act insane, but it turned out to be all too easy for her to gain admission. Once inside, her treatment at the hospital was horrific. Patients were not given enough food, sleep or warm clothing while the staff had ample food and wore heavy jackets. They were bathed in unheated water and sent to bed without a chance to dry. Many nurses seemed to enjoy bullying, beating or otherwise abusing patients and the doctors gave patients little attention.

Fortunately for Nellie, she had friends outside who vouched for her sanity and we able to seccure her release. She wasn’t the only sane patient caught up in the asylum. The others, having no chance of being released, began to break down.

When she was freed and had a chance to tell her story, a grand jury investigated conditions at the asylum, resulting in a budget increase and some improvements in process. It makes me wonder about mental health diagnosis, though. Even as recently as 1973, the Rosenhan experiment showed how easily incorrect diagnoses can occur, both calling the sane insane and calling the insane sane.

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