A Retrospective Analysis of Early 20th Century Asylum Records of Patients with Dementia Praecox


Mental illness definitions and classifications are to a certain extent intrinsically tied to social factors. To empirically examine the impact of sociodemographic factors on patients institutionalized with dementia praecox in the early 20th century, we examined records from Dorothea Dix Hospital (DDH), an asylum in Southeastern United States. Data was extracted from digitally archived handwritten admission ledgers and general casebooks. Of those institutionalized at DDH between 1896-1917, 190 patients were diagnosed with dementia praecox. Clinical characteristics of patients are described using descriptive text analysis. We used regression models to examine the influence of sociodemographic factors on length of stay and release condition from the asylum. Race was not recorded for any patient and presumed White since DDH was not racially integrated until 1960s. Women had a significantly increased odds (OR=3.8, p=0.016) of dying in the facility than getting discharged; being single significantly increased the odds of dying in the facility (OR=6.8, p=0.002). Marital status predicted length of stay—being single increased the length of stay (b=5.97, t (159) = 2.43, p=0.016) adjusting for the effects of gender, age, and education. We report the impact of gender and marital status on patient release condition and length of stay in an asylum in the early 20th century. Results from the historical data we empirically examined are relevant today as women continue to experience disparities in mental health care. Family support was crucial to better outcomes then, as it is today.

Issues in Mental Health Nursing