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Lobotomized: Evolution of the treatment of mental illness

Mental Health
Mental Health
Samantha Harvill
March 1, 2023
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Asylums are now the stage for horror movies and scary stories. But they used to be a very real establishment that were used to house individuals that others deemed a burden. PTSD, anxiety, bipolar, and depression are disorders that have become more commonplace topics of discussion within society. There has been enough research done on these issues that help those who suffer from them, and allow them to not let their disorders get in the way of their lives. 

Though these all seem so commonplace now, the simplest hint of them almost a century ago would have been the lock on someone’s life. In the late 1940’s, scientific acceptance of lobotomies became widespread and by 1952, an estimated 50,000 patients in the United States and Canada had been lobotomized. 

Records show upwards of 80% of all lobotomies were performed on women, many against their will.

The neurologist who was credited with inventing the lobotomy received the Nobel Prize. Their website still shows the award.  

It is no secret women were disproportionately, and inhumanely housed in asylums where they were neglected and abused.

When you hear the name Kennedy, you most likely think of the president. Old money, luxury, and poise, the Kennedys were the picture of American elegance. However, fewer know of the “Kennedy curse.” 

In shame, the family kept quiet about their living reminder of said curse, Rosemary Kennedy, JFK’s sister, suffered from hypoxia as a child. Their mother, Rose Kennedy, received poor medical treatment, not uncommon even today. Having to forcibly delay her birth, Rosemary grew up with brain defects due to poor care of her mother. 

Shamed by her ailments, the family decided that neglect and further abuse was the best way to silence the sore on their family’s name. Rosemary was given multiple lobotomies, a procedure that drills pieces of the brain out of the patient. The procedure is meant to “fix” an individual’s sporadic or untasteful behavior and personality, it left Rosemary a shell of herself, as it did with many other women of the time. Rosemary passed away in 2003. 

Today's day and age has allowed for women to thrive as human beings, without the damping of unjust and cruel medical procedures and prescriptions. 

However, there is still an uphill battle being fought, as far as diagnosis, women are less likely to receive correct diagnoses in mental and physical health clinics. 

For all the benefits, the medical world can be an insidious double-sided sword. Imperative to the modern world, allowing for human life to prosper and develop beyond our wildest dreams. But at the same time, it bears a history that most turn away from in shame. 

It is important that both sides of the blade are embraced, for the betterment of medicine as a whole. To learn what works, and where many have faltered. However, there is too much history that wrote out those who added so much to it. Due to embarrassment or ego, many women have been left to be nothing more than footnotes, and we must ensure this is never allowed to happen again.

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