Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 53, Issue 10, pp 1141–1147 | Cite as

Views from an asylum: a retrospective case note analysis of a nineteenth century asylum

  • Elvina May-Yin ChuEmail author
  • Joeke van Santen
  • Vijay Harbishettar
Brief report



To investigate whether lifelong admission to psychiatric asylum care was usual practice before community psychiatric care was introduced.


Historical archives (1838–1938) for 50 patients at the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum in England were studied. Regression analyses were performed to investigate associations between predictor variables (age, gender, marital status, social class) and outcomes (diagnoses, length of stay and admission outcomes).


30 patients (70%) were discharged into the community. 15 (31%) patients were admitted longer than 1 year. Diagnosis of mania was significantly higher in patients who were married. Trend associations were observed for melancholia being diagnosed in higher social class patients and monomania being diagnosed in unmarried patients. No associations were found between predictor variables and length of stay or admission outcomes.


These findings challenge the myth that asylum incarceration was a usual practice before the advent of community care. Most patients were discharged from psychiatric asylum hospital within a year of admission even before the advent of psychotropic medication.


Asylum Psychiatric in-patients Admission Community care 



We thank Roberta Judd, archivist at St Andrew’s Healthcare in Northampton, England and Dr Vaughan Bell, senior lecturer in the Division of Psychiatry at University College London, England for his suggestions in preparing the manuscript. This study was unfunded.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The first author EC was employed by St Andrew’s Healthcare while this study was carried out. The co-authors (JM and VH) declare there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.St Andrew’s HealthcareNorthamptonUK
  2. 2.Department of Neurosurgery 6th floor (room 690)Montreal Neurological InstituteMontrealCanada
  3. 3.University College LondonLondonUK
  4. 4.Department of Psychiatry, VU University Medical CenterGGZ inGeest Dienst Onderzoek en InnovatieAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Geriatric Clinic and Services, Department of PsychiatryNational Institute of Mental Health and NeuroSciences (NIMHANS)BengaluruIndia
  6. 6.South Essex Partnership NHS Foundation TrustGraysUK

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