Originally when I was seeking out a topic for this essay, I had wanted to research midwifery. This was a topic that hit close to home as I have just recently gone through the labour process and wanted to understand how women in pre-confederate Canada managed to get through especially with the lack of good drugs, technology and todays comforts. However, as I sought out primary sources I stumbled upon an article in the Canadian Medical journal that peaked my interest and ultimately changed my topic.
The article is about a woman who had suffered a miscarriage three weeks prior to the article being written. The miscarriage had greatly affected her mental health and the loss pushed her into a web of depression. Her inability to cope with this depression, a complete lack of knowledge or help from her doctor and husband about depression and a religious experience resulted in her consuming a large quantity of Sulphuric Acid that eventually killed her.
After reading this article I found myself questioning how women’s mental health was handled in the pre confederate time, specifically in 1852 when the article was written. Here was a woman in so much pain, in the throws of depression and the doctor sent her home with a warning that she might try to kill herself. I had never thought about this topic before and I was left hungry to learn more. Was this a common occurrence? Were there any measures in place to help women with mental health issues? Was there medication or was the only option to be sent away to an asylum where one could be stuck for the rest of their natural lives?
My only knowledge on the topic is from my mother who told me a story about women and children being placed in psychiatric asylums if they did not act the way they were supposed too. While some individuals were in the asylum for mental illness or mental disabilities, others were placed in asylums by friends or spouses simply because they were not fitting into the correct box of behaviours. This appalled my mother greatly as she is an advocate for children with special needs and believes very strongly in inclusion.
As I research more on this topic I am discovering how much I need to narrow my topic down. I am struggling to keep focus as there are so many different things I can write about. The more I find the more my opinion about the past changes. I was so unaware of the emigration laws of 1859-1927 where people who were deemed “Mentally defective” were not welcome to Canada.[i] This is shocking to me and reminds me how different our world is now compared to the world during pre confederate Canada. But, as interesting as this history is, this is not what I want to write about. So my search continues.
As I sift through Google Scholar, I find a book that I feel is a great asset to my topic. “The Insane in the United States and Canada”, by D. Hack Tuke is full of information about asylums and health practices in the pre confederate time. [ii] While the book is long, over 200 pages, it is a great read and really helps me understand my topic better.
My search for information finally comes full circle and I have found an article that helps me narrow my topic even further, something I had thought to be impossible when I first started this journey. I pull the article from the website, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/toronto-feature-centre-for-addiction-and-mental-health/ and I feel as though I have stuck gold. This page gives insight to an asylum that was built in Toronto in 1850 and is described by “historian William Dendy, “a symbol of all the errors and horrors of mental health care.”[iii] Finally I have found my topic ; How were individuals treated during their time in the Toronto’s Provincial Lunatic Asylum and why it this facility referred to by historians in such a negative way.”
[i] Chadha, Ena. “‘Mentally Defectives’ Not Welcome: Mental Disability in Canadian Immigration Law, 1859-1927.” Disability Studies Quarterly 28, no. 1 (2008).
[ii] Daniel Hack Tuke. The Insane in the United States and Canada: By D. Hack Tuke. HK Lewis, 1885.
[iii] Jamie Bradburn. “Toronto Feature: Centre For Addiction And Mental Health.” In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historical Canada, 1985—. Article published November 29, 2012 Retrieved from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/toronto-feature-centre-for-addiction-and-mental-health/
Bradburn, Jamie. “Toronto Feature: Centre For Addiction And Mental Health.” In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historical Canada, 1985—. Article published November 29, 2012 Retrieved from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/toronto-feature-centre-for-addiction-and-mental-health/
Ena,Chadha, “‘Mentally Defectives’ Not Welcome: Mental Disability in Canadian Immigration Law, 1859-1927.” Disability Studies Quarterly 28, no. 1 (2008).
Francis, Daniel. “The development of the lunatic asylum in the maritime provinces.” Acadiensis 6, no. 2 (1977): 23-38.
Tuke, Daniel Hack. The Insane in the United States and Canada: By D. Hack Tuke. HK Lewis, 1885.