west park | mental illness

I originally thought these baths were used for some form of hydrotherapy treatment, which like ECT, has a somewhat dubious past. For instance, here's a rather nasty passage about the treatment of hydrotherapy. It was from a US source, and I'm not suggesting in any way that these practises took place at West Park.

"In 1896 with claims appearing in the medical literature, hydrotherapy quickly came to occupy a central place in medicine's armamentarium. Private sanitariums and better funded state hospitals made their hydrotherapy unit's, with rows of bathtubs and gleaming plumbing, into clinical showpieces that they proudly presented to the public.

At first glance, several asylum doctors admitted, it was difficult for the medically untrained eye to see just what was so new about water therapies. Warm baths, touted for their soothing effects, seemingly recalled the ministrations of the York Quakers.

Other versions of hydrotherapy, such as the continuous bath and needle shower, appeared less benign and looked suspiciously like the discredited therapies of old for restraining, depleting, and punishing patients.

The prolonged bath involved strapping a disruptive patient into a hammock suspended in a bathtub, with the top of the tub covered by a canvas sheet that had a hole for the patient's head. At times cold water would be used to fill the tub and at other times water that was hot to the touch. Patients would be kept there for hours and even days on end, with bandages sometimes wrapped around their eyes and ears to shut out other sensations. Ice caps were occasionally applied to their heads as well. Asylum doctors explained in their journals why such an extended stay in the tub was good for the patient. The continuous bath, they said, acted as a 'water-jacket' that induces physiological fatigue without the sacrifice of mental capacity and stimulates the excretory function of the skin and kidneys.

The needle shower or jet douche as it was sometimes called, consisted of pummeling the patient with pressurized water. Various 'prescriptions' for such showers called for dialing up pressures to forty pounds, with water temperatures as chilly as 50 degrees. The pounding was said to provide a variety of physiological benefits, such as stimulating the heart, driving blood pressure to the internal organs, and inducing glandular action by it's tonic effect the general cutaneous circulation. The water therapy most reviled by patients was the wet pack. Attendants would dip sheets into either hot or cold water, then wrap them tightly around the patient so that he cannot move anything except his head, fingers and toes. A woollen blanket might then be pinned to the sheets, and, at times, the entire bundle tied to a bed. Patients would be left trussed up in this manner for hours, at times, even for a day or two, abandoned in these extended treatments to wallow in feces and urine. But that was the least of their discomfort. As the sheets dried, they would shrink tightly about the patient. With their body heat so snugly retained, they would experience an awful sensation of burning up, and of suffocation. Many patients struggled to escape, so much so that 'cardiac collapse' was an admitted risk."

West Park was built after this date.