Such Tender Years. Leicestershire's Young Asylum Patients
The words ‘Such Tender Years’ were taken from a letter within a Certificate, for a three year old boy, at the time of his admission to a lunatic asylum, as a ‘person of unsound mind’. The research covers the admission of over a hundred under fourteen year olds, to Lunatic Asylums in Leicestershire many decades ago, where they were very much minors and in the minority. Over twenty youngsters were aged six years and under.
The book covers the reasons for admission, in the days of ‘open fires’ and ‘open roads’. Those with quite maladaptive behaviours ran onto railway lines, tore clothes and bedding to shreds, put younger siblings in extreme danger or disrupted whole communities at any hour of the day. Others had strange thoughts or actions, often being unable to sustain their early careers in various fields of employment.
The still extant medical records outline the detailed diagnosis, both clinical and mental, which took place at the time of entry. Line after line of individual case book entries gave clear insights into the various patterns of treatment. Warm relationships with both staff and fellow patients helped to make the new environment, a form of home from home. Everything was generally done to ensure that time within the walls was as well spent as possible.
Many grew up and grew old as a patient, but the young mentally ill fortunately experienced similar cure patterns to adults and were able to return cured or markedly relieved to their former lifestyles. Ultimately, as asylum inmates the young patients may have had access to better leisure and occupational experiences in the laundries, gardens, farms or various workshops, than their peers on the outside. They were locked into excellent care, warmth, clean dry clothes (many were incontinent) regular nutritious meals, 24-hour medical care, broad entertainment programmes (both inside and out), occupational experience and finally a safe independence.