12 Shocking Treatments Used In Mental Institutes

To many people, mental institutes looked like very scary things decades and centuries ago. What people don’t realize is that these treatments were state of the art at the time. However, in the early days of mental treatment many people ended up in these facilities over normal sicknesses and illnesses, like people that suffer from epilepsy.

These days, people with mental issues get far less barbaric treatment, and doctors know the different between mental insanity and regular medical issues. But taking a look back can be an educational, although somewhat shocking, adventure in the history of mental institutes.


While the lobotomy opened up room for more research when it came to neurological signalling as it connected to mental illness, it was used before enough studying was done on it and didn’t always have the positive effect you would hope it would. However, the occasional symptoms weren’t enough to stop them from using this treatment since it was effective enough to justify any risk it posed on the patient.


A bit more invasive than lobotomy, trephination, also known as trepanation, has been used for over 7,000 years and requires a hole to be drilled into the skull. Sometimes they used an auger or a bore, and sometimes a saw.

There are beliefs that this would help relieve pressure, thus relieving things like headaches and mental illness. Similar treatments are used today from bleeding on the brain.


Hydrotherapy is an alternative therapy that is actually garnering more interest these days, for relaxing warm baths and other treatments. However, in the past people in mental institutes were gave cold treatments, also called icing. They’d be forced into freezing cold baths or showers to heal what ailed their minds.


Remember taking ipecac syrup when you were sick because it would make you throw up and get the bad out? That’s kind of the basis for purging in the old days. They believed that there was an imbalance in the body when people had mental issues that could be resolved by things like purging and bleeding.


The items in this photo show some of the tools used in bleeding, then later in cupping. All used similarly to purging to help get the bad out so that mental acuity can be balanced. They may have also used leaches for this treatment.


In the past, people really didn’t understand illnesses like schizophrenia, mood disorders and extreme stress, so they treated them in sometimes strange and shocking ways. One of those ways was through exorcism.

Solitary Confinement

This is a treatment used in prisons today for unruly inmates, but it was also used to keep certain mental patients away from others, for whatever reason. Spending time in solitary probably didn’t do any good for the mental patients except cause them more insanity.

Straight Jackets

Straight jackets seem like something you would only find in a haunted house attraction nowadays. However, in the past it was a way to restrain inmates in mental institutes from hurting themselves or others.

Induced Coma

Induced comas are still widely used today. They put people in a state of rest where they can hopefully heal themselves. In mental institutes of the past, people were put into low blood sugar comas which would help alter their brain wiring. They would only go under for a few hours, rather than weeks or months.

Electroconvulsive therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy, or electroshock therapy, was probably one of the most shocking (pun intended) treatments used in the past for the mentally ill. Whether it really worked or not, it did put patience in a more docile frame of mind.

Metrazol Therapy

Metrazol therapy was a therapy in which doctors induced seizures in patients. The idea was that seizures that were induced would stop seizures caused by things like epilepsy, that the two couldn’t exist together. It didn’t work.

Fever Therapy

If cold treatment wasn’t bad enough, they also tried fever therapy. Fevers proved to treat certain mental illnesses. One example was of a patient suffering from psychosis brought on by syphilis. This mental issue was removed when they gave the patient malaria to induce fevers. Risky but effective?