In the recent past, the medical treatments available for most forms of mental illness were often painful and largely ineffective. Psychiatrists had very little knowledge about brain chemistry or the actual root causes of many conditions, which meant their treatments were usually way off the mark.

These nine therapies are particularly notable for their bizarre nature and, sadly, for their cruelty. As you read through them, you’ll find yourself very, very glad you weren’t around back then…

1. Insulin shock therapy: Doctors would try to treat some mental illnesses like schizophrenia by giving patients huge daily doses of insulin, which would then send them into a coma. This treatment would be undertaken for a period of weeks, and many ended the sessions with brain damage and/or severe obesity.

2. Sleep deprivation therapy: Also sometimes called “wake therapy,” this treatment for depression involved limiting the amount of sleep patients were able to get in a given night, resulting in improved mood. There actually is some scientific evidence supporting temporary effects, but in the past, psychiatrists would often severely meddle with sleep schedules resulting in more intense psychological problems.


3. Trepanning: This medieval treatment for a variety of mental illnesses involved surgically drilling a hole into the skull and exposing the brain to air. This was thought to purify and refresh the brain matter, curing whatever psychological problems the person was suffering from.


4. Hot hydrotherapy: Lots of people find sitting in a warm bath relaxing and mentally refreshing, but in the late 19th and early 20th century, doctors would actually blast their patients with strong jets of scalding water, in the hopes of effectively “shocking” them out their mental funk. 


5. Cold hydrotherapy: This treatment might have actually been worse than its heated version. Psychiatrists would actually restrain and submerge their patients in near freezing water or ice baths with essentially the same rationale of shocking the person out of their mental illness.


See more disturbing historical treatments on the next page…