Pilgrim State Hospital, Brentwood, NY, 1938

Eisenstaedt 1938Brentwood, NY, 1938: the Pilgrim State Psychiatric Hospital… From the archives of Life magazine comes a dramatic photo essay by legendary Life photographer Albert Eisenstaedt. Entitled Strangers to Reason: LIFE Inside a Psychiatric Hospital, 1938, the essay features twenty-six heart-wrenching black and white photos. They tell the tragic story of a mental health treatment not so long ago that today would be considered cruel. Life was only two years old as a publication at the time of this essay. Still, it took on this controversial subject as a cause of its own. As Life‘s editors wrote at the time:

The day of birth for every human being is the start of a lifelong battle to adapt himself to an ever-changing environment. He is usually victorious and adjusts himself without pain. However, in one case out of 20 he does not adjust himself. In U.S. hospitals, behind walls like [those] shown here, are currently 500,000 men, women an children whose minds have broken in the conflict of life. About the same number, or more, who have lost their equilibrium, are at large. Their doctor say they have mental diseases. Their lawyers call them insane.

Mentally balanced people shun and fear the insane. The general public refuses to face the terrific problem of what should be done for them. Today, though their condition has been much improved, they are still the most neglected, unfortunate group in the world. [This photo essay features] pictures showing the dark world of the insane and what scientists are doing to lead them back to the light of reason.

It is good to remember how things were–and must never become again–for those with psychiatric disabilities. It is also good to consider within the mental health system, indeed, how far things have come, but still how far they also have to go.

To see the entire photo essay, click here. 

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