Thursday, 6 August 2009

Celtic Connections?

We've been fortunate to be awarded more funds from the Wellcome Trust to digitise more material for the Medical History of British India Online project, this time the reports of the Lunatic Asylums. They're a fascinating resource for the study of mental illness, but also very revealing of social and moral attitudes of the day.

One, General report no. 6 on the lunatic asylums, vaccination and dispensaries in the Bengal Presidency, 1873 reports that "Burmans are like Celts - clannish; they associate and combine together for mischief ...they defy discipline...and incite misconduct in others..."

Of the types of mental illness documented, most are reported to be the result of ganja, but also includes "40 patients addicted to onanism, which I consider to be a predisposing cause to idiotcy ... in spite of every care and treatment, they still continue to practice this fatal vice, which has already deprived them of reason and is hurrying them to their graves."

These 40 are men, but the women are the subject of study because of the "[probability] of menstrual irregularity being the existing cause of insanity". Anyone who's had PMS ( or been on the receiving end!) will sympathise...