Ireland's Mental Hospitals Condemned People at a Rate Higher than USSR, Say Campaigners

Ireland's Mental Hospitals Condemned People at a Rate Higher than USSR, Say Campaigners

Between the late 1920s and early 1960s Ireland led the world in locking up people in mental institutions, with inpatient admission rates that were multiples of other countries, campaigners for mental health now claim. 

The campaigners are demanding that the on-going Irish government enquiries into scandals at homes for unmarried mothers and their babies be broadened to include an investigation into the state-run system of mental hospitals which incarcerated people at a rate even ahead of the old Soviet Union.

“The high rate had nothing to do with mental illness,” according to Dr Eoin O’Sullivan, associate professor in social policy at Trinity College Dublin, quoted in the Irish Times today.

“[Mental hospitals] were used to dispose of people who society didn’t want… They were the single biggest part of our system of coercive confinement.”

As in the mother and baby homes, mortality rates were high. Research shows that 33,000 patients died in “overcrowded and disease-ridden psychiatric hospitals” between the late 1920s and early 1960s. Death rates were significantly higher than in the general community.

According to the Irish Times, “Experimental but now discredited medical procedures were also commonplace, including lobotomies – which involved removing parts of the brain – and insulin coma therapy, where patients were repeatedly injected with insulin to induce a coma.”

“There is also evidence of controversial burial practices – such as mass, unmarked graves – and the wrongful incarceration of people who had fallen foul of families or authorities.”

Recent reporting of research by a local historian in the West of Ireland has shown that 796 children, most of them infants, died between 1925 and 1961 in a single mother and baby home run by Catholic nuns in Tuam, County Galway.

The story made headlines around the world when journalists mistakenly reported the nearly 800 infants were “dumped in a disused septic tank,” a claim the local historian, Catherine Corless, never made. Instead, she suggested that the infants, for whom no official burial records exist, may have been buried in an unofficial graveyard at the back of the home.

While the appalling conditions in Irish state-run mental institutions have been known for some time, one prominent Catholic observer told Breitbart London that the demand for an inquiry has been muted so far, because “there isn’t the same anti-Catholic thing going on” that is behind the demands for repeated inquiries into Church-run mother and baby homes.

Now however Mind Freedom Ireland, which campaigns for the rights of psychiatric patients, says there should be an enquiry extended to “include the sub-human treatment of people in psychiatric institutions… including involuntary detention, seclusion, four-point restraint and forced treatment including the administration of electroshock against a person’s will.”