We’re all mad here

On this day in 1757, “St. Patrick’s Hospital for Imbeciles,” Ireland’s first mental hospital, was opened in Dublin. The name has changed throughout the years to the simpler St. Patrick’s Hospital – but when it opened it was a hospital designed to house the insane and afflicted. It was the final gift that Jonathan Swift (of Gulliver’s Travels fame) bestowed upon the world, and it was created at his request with money left for it in his will.

Swift was obsessed with madness. He was declared insane himself after not speaking for more than a year. His ongoing mental afflictions were described by Will Durant who said, “Definite symptoms of madness appeared in 1738. In 1741 guardians were appointed to take care of his affairs and watch lest in his outbursts of violence he should do himself harm. In 1742 he suffered great pain from the inflammation of his left eye, which swelled to the size of an egg; five attendants had to restrain him from tearing out his eye.” He was depressed and perhaps a little suicidal, but he was also a very smart man. He guessed there was a link between mental health and physical medicine, so when the hospital was built, it was built right next to Dr. Steeven’s Hospital. It was soon full to the brink, and one of the most extensive asylum networks in the world (at that time) was born in Ireland.

St. Patrick’s has grown to be the largest independent, not-for-profit mental health hospital in the country. It is still located in the same place it has been for 258 years. The facility has undergone numerous face lifts and makeovers, and is now modern in appearance and as airy as possible. They provide services of all kinds and offer both inpatient and outpatient care. Throughout the centuries, it has housed numerous authors, poets, and artists – who sometimes tend to be more sensitive to mental affliction. Their medical director is also a writer, like the man who founded the hospital in the first place. He has a wonderful attitude regarding mental health issues and has said, “We also need to understand that mental distress is episodic and people need to be heard when they are ill, but not marginalised because of their distress. We still need to believe that people who suffer mental distress can live, work and love again. We don’t believe that yet [as a society] – particularly in Ireland because of the long shadow of asylums where 2 per cent of our population were kept.

I think Jonathan Swift would approve.

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