The Cost of Insanity: Public, Voluntary and Private Asylum Care in Nineteenth-Century Ireland

Screenshot from 2016-04-13 08-28-00

The Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland has its own Media Lab to diffuse its results. The latest podcast may interest the readers of h-madness. Under the title, “The Cost of Insanity: Public, Voluntary and Private Asylum Care in Nineteenth-Century Ireland”, Alice Mauger tells a financial history of psychiatry.

How did Irish medical practitioners and lay people interpret and define mental illness? What behaviours were considered so out of the ordinary that they warranted locking up, in some cases never to return to society? Did exhibiting behaviour that threatened land and property interests, the financial success of the family or even just that which caused embarrassment eclipse familial devotion and render some individuals ‘unmanageable’?

The nineteenth century saw the evolution of asylum care in Ireland. While Jonathan Swift famously left most of his fortune to found Ireland first lunatic asylum in 1746, it would be 70 years before the government followed his lead. In 1817 it enacted legislation permitting districts throughout Ireland to form asylums and by 1900, twenty-two such hospitals accommodated almost 16,000 patients. Growing demand for care for other social groups prompted the decision, in 1870, to admit some fee-paying patients, charged between £6 and £24 per annum, depending on their means. Out of this 16,000 only around 3% actually paid for their care. Private asylums, meanwhile, charged extremely high fees that were out of reach for the majority of society (usually several hundred pounds per year) and by 1900, thirteen private asylums housed 300 patients. Occupying a sort of middle ground, voluntary asylums, established by philanthropists, offered less expensive accommodation to those who could not afford high private asylum fees (from around £24 to a few hundred pounds). By 1900, these four voluntary asylum had outstripped the thirteen private ones, providing for 400 patients.

To listen to the podcast, click here.

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