An asylum is a psychiatric hospital where people with serious psychiatric illnesses are being treated, but some just got way so insane, it’s creepy.
Sure, asylums give us the creeps just by looking at their photographs, but wait til you hear the chilling true stories behind these hospitals.
Here, we’ve selected the 10 creepiest and most insane asylums in the world.
1. Bethlem Royal Hospital (London, UK)
The Bethlem Royal Hospital notoriously referred to as “Bedlam” was one of the world’s first mental institutions. It was founded by Christians in 1247 and it was the only public mental institution in England until well into the 19th century.
Bedlam was run by doctors in the Monro family for over 100 years, during the 18th and 19th centuries. During this time, patients were dunked in cold baths, starved, and beaten.
Other forms of “therapy” included bloodletting, leeches, cupping glasses and rotational therapy. These treatments were so brutal that the institution would refuse admission to patients who could not be able to withstand them.
In the late 1790s, Bryan Crowther became Bedlam’s chief surgeon. While his job was to care for sick patients, he was much more interested in their corpses. He dissected their brains, looking for any physiological evidence that could be held responsible for mental illness. He continued these experiments for two decades.
No longer an institution, Bethlem Royal Hospital is now a research and treatment centre and houses a small museum with a collection of art created by people with mental illness.
2. Willowbrook State School (Staten Island)
Willowbrook was partially the inspiration for American Horror Story: Asylum. Although it was called a school, the reality was far from a place of education. Residents rarely attended class and reportedly the only time they would be allowed outside was during the summer when the building became dangerously hot to remain inside.
The truth about what was going on inside Willowbrook’s walls started to come to light in 1965 after a visit by Robert Kennedy. At that time, the facility designed to house up to 4,000 residents had more than 6,000 and resident-to-attendant ratios were almost 50-to-one.
However, it wasn’t until reporter Geraldo Rivera investigated Willowbrook, after being given access by a doctor who had been fired from the institution and wanted to expose it for what it truly was, and uncovered the truly terrible conditions that the asylum came under fire. Rivera recorded footage of naked children, wandering the halls covered in their own urine and faeces. Basic hygiene was not taught, and soap, toothpaste and individual towels were not provided. There were also reports of physical abuse and sexual assault by staff.
Willowbrook shut its doors in 1987 after 40 years.
3. Overbrook Insane Asylum (New Jersey, USA)
The site for the Overbrook Insane Asylum was selected due to its remote, high altitude location, which, it was believed, could provide a healthy, peaceful setting for patients to rehabilitate in. Unfortunately, the beautiful location could not make up for the lack of care the patients received.
In 1917, 24 patients were left to freeze to death in their own beds and after World War 2, Overbrook’s facilities became dangerously crowded and as many as 150 patients went missing.
The asylum closed its doors in 1975.
4. New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum (New Jersey, USA)
The Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, formally the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum, was founded in 1848. It was the first public institution to promote patient privacy and a welcoming environment. In 1907, Dr. Henry Cotton became the hospital’s medical director. Initially, Dr Cotton complied with the facility’s ethos. He brought in occupational therapy programs and got rid of cruel restraints.
However, he also believed mental illness was caused by infections and could be treated by surgery. Dr Cotton and his staff routinely cut out teeth, stomachs, gall bladders, colons, testicles and ovaries. Dr Cotton claimed to have achieved cure rates of nearly 90 percent. On the other hand, the number of deaths at the facility were extraordinarily high. Dr Cotton died in 1933; however, some of his practices continued for decades after.
5. Topeka State Hospital (Kansas, USA)
Topeka State Hospital opened in 1872 to provide treatment to criminals and the mentally ill. The hospital routinely carried out castrations as it was legal under Kansas law. Other reports claimed that patients were beaten and sexually abused. There is even a story of a reporter who visited the facility who saw a patient who had been strapped down for so long that his skin had started to grow over his restraints!
The patients were also subjected to a life of boredom. They were given nothing to do or to stimulate their minds, and so they spent their days in rocking chairs. The hospital closed in 1997.