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Quaker Tour of England, Page 19 of 22 The Retreat Mental Hospital
The Retreat Mental Hospital photos by Bill Samuel, 25 June 1998
At one time, the mentally ill were thought to be demon-possessed. They were regarded as hysterical, a word derived from the Latin for the womb. If they were women, the womb was thought to be traveling around the body, so they would remove the womb. In order to cure what was thought to be an "imbalance of humours," they would bleed the patient. The mentally ill were frequently manacled.
In 1792 a Friend (Quaker) in York had a mental crisis and was put in the York Asylum. Friends were not allowed to visit her. She died within a few weeks. Friends then investigated the conditions there, and found that the patients were treated worse than animals. In fact, because the patients couldn't think clearly, they were thought to be like animals.
Concerned Friends enlisted William Tuke, a Quaker tea merchant. He and his wife Esther had been influenced by evangelicals and were concerned about the dullness of York Friends. Tuke visited the York Asylum, and was horrified. He appealed to Friends, personal acquaintances and physicians for assistance in providing a better alternative. He collected the needed funds to build The Retreat, which opened in 1796.
The Retreat was set in the countryside outside of York, surrounded by gardens and some cows. There were no bars or gratings on the windows, and no patients were manacled. Friends ran The Retreat with little medical involvement, using Moral Treatment. The principles of treatment included:
Self-control - patients were rewarded if successful in controlling themselves.
Harmonious environment - a building that would lift the spirits, surrounded by natural beauty
Physical nourishment - high food standards
Staff as role models
The approach of The Retreat was widely derided at the time. In a letter regarding his efforts, William Tuke noted, "All men seem to desert me." But now Tuke is considered a pioneer in modern treatment of the mentally ill.
The Retreat is now an independent hospital with 160 beds, including 100 for the elderly. It specializes in certain areas, such as post-traumatic stress treatment, eating disorders, and medical personnel with addictions or mental illness. It offers some services not provided by the National Health Service. Today, it still has no locked doors, and deals with patients who could be a danger to themselves or others by giving them extra attention by staff and volunteers, rather than restraining them.
The Retreat remains a Quaker ministry. The Yorkshire General Meeting of Friends suggests names for the Board of Governors and appoints four members of the Benevolences Committee. All Governors are Friends. The burial ground of the York Friends Meeting is on the grounds of The Retreat.