These Harrowing And Detailed Portraits Show Mental Illnesses In The 1840s



Back in the 18th century, Sir Alexander Morison (1779—1866) was a pioneering physician and psychologist (or alienist as they were called back then).

Images VIA

At the time, many physicians were drawing pictures of the symptoms of patients that they were treating in order to educate other people about them, and Morison thought that it would be a useful practice to also document what the patients he was treating for mental illness looked like as well. These illustrations accompanied Morison’s seminal text ‘The Physiognomy of Mental Diseases’, which contained descriptions of several types of mental illness, case studies of various patients and possible treatments.

This approach was valued until the 1850s – he pioneered it in 1840 – but by that point the photograph became the main method of communication in this format. There were also concerns that artists could emphasise certain facial features in their drawings which would be inaccurate and turn them more into caricatures than serious medical tools. It was also later realised that physical attributes weren’t linked to a person’s mental states.

Nevertheless, it’s fascinating and haunting to look at a selection of those pictures from that decade:

“Female patient suffering from erotomania, 1843.”

Mental Illness 1840s 1

Portrait of 20-year-old female mental patient.

Mental Illness 1840s 2

Patient suffering from ‘Religious insane pride.’

Mental Illness 1840s 3

Portrait of elderly female mental patient—nymphomania.

Mental Illness 1840s 4

Chronic dementia.

Mental Illness 1840s 5

Patient EI, ‘This female, who had no hereditary disposition of insanity, was seized with Puerperal Mania three days after the birth of her first child…’

Mental Illness 1840s 6

Patient EI, ‘restored to reason.’

Mental Illness 1840s 7

J.T.D. aged 40 ‘insane.’

Mental Illness 1840s 8

Patient MC, ‘a married female , aged 27, with a hereditary pre-disposition to insanity.’

Mental Illness 1840s 9

Portrait of dementia, from cibber.

Mental Illness 1840s 10

Monomania and dementia.

Mental Illness 1840s 11

Anne P. psychiatric patient admitted to Bethlehem Hospital, suffering from ‘Mania from childbirth.’

Mental Illness 1840s 12

Patient LD, ‘aged 47, this female bore an excellent character before she became insane.’

Mental Illness 1840s 13

F.W. male psychiatric patient, suffering from mania.

Mental Illness 1840s 14

Eliza V. admitted to Bethlehem Hospital, suffering from ‘Mania, complicated with Hysteria.’

Mental Illness 1840s 15

Agnes W. psychiatric patient admitted to Surrey Lunatic Asylum.

Mental Illness 1840s 16

Anne B. psychiatric patient admitted to Bethlehem Hospital,with fourth attack of insanity.

Mental Illness 1840s 17

Last stage of general paralysis.

Mental Illness 1840s 18

‘Insanity’—Frontispiece from ‘The Physiognomy of Mental Diseases.’

Mental Illness 1840s 19

Portrait of female mental patient – cured.

Mental Illness 1840s 20

Creepy huh? No idea what happened to any of these people, but I know that they played their part in the development of psychology and for that I’m grateful to them. Hope they all managed to turn out all OK in their own lives though.

For more of the same, check out this shocking look inside Indonesia’s mental health program. Awful.



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