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May 28, 2017

24 Disturbing Photographs Capture the Everyday Struggles of Patients at a Mental Hospital in New York in the 1930s

These black and white photographs were taken by LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt from the grounds of Pilgrim State Hospital on Long Island, New York in 1938. They are remarkable for the way they blend clear-eyed reporting with an almost palpable compassion. But what is perhaps most unsettling about the images is how terribly familiar they look.

The treatment of mental illness—in all its confounding varieties and degrees—has come a long, long way since the 1930s, and in most countries is now immeasurably more humane, comprehensive and discerning than the brutal approaches of even a few decades ago. Advancements in psychiatric medications alone have helped countless people lead fuller lives than they might have without drugs. And yet... the grim, desolate tone of the pictures in this gallery will feel eerily contemporary to anyone familiar with psych wards in countless large hospitals today.

(Photos: Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)



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