Bed and bath nursing


In the beginning of the 20th century the mentally ill were often kept in bed, just like people with a physical illness. This often resulted in dementia, alienation, and autism. The treatment of  mentally ill patients also entailed putting them into baths for hours or even days.

Around the turn of the 20th century, in psychiatric hospitals, mental illness was seen as a disorder of the brain. Consequently, the mentally ill could be treated in a similar way to the physically ill and had to remain in bed at all times. Being treated like an ordinary patient would stop the mentally ill from feeling like a danger to society, shut away and isolated. Moreover, the doctors and nurses could observe the patients. Unfortunately, the patients became extremely bored, which resulted in dementia, further alienation, inertia and autism. In addition, many patients were afflicted with bedsores.

Bath nursing had its roots in the same organic approach to madness. For centuries, the mentally ill had been given baths in the hope that those would have a positive effect on their minds. But the intention, frequency and duration of the bath sessions were new. Restless patients were often kept in lukewarm baths for hours, and sometimes even days. This was first and foremost to calm the mentally ill, but it was thought to also have a positive effect on their sleep and appetite. All of this was based on the assumption that the mentally ill had an altered blood circulation, and that these baths could change it for the better. Generally, the patients were given calming medication beforehand. Those who were not so keen were forced into it, with a plank or canvas placed over the bath.

Ethical objections against this and a different view of how to tackle madness brought an end to bed and bath therapy. The rediscovered work therapy replaced it.