The first of New Jersey’s public mental hospitals, Trenton Psychiatric
Hospital, began providing services on May 15, 1848. The
hospital was founded by Dorothea Lynde Dix, the renowned pioneer
and advocate for humane care and treatment of the mentally ill.
Ms. Dix always looked upon Trenton Psychiatric Hospital as
her "firstborn child." She spent her declining years as a
guest of the hospital and died there in 1887.
Before the opening of the hospital, the mentally ill of New Jersey
were "cared for" in jails, almshouses, or private homes where
they were frequently confined to attics, cellars, or outbuildings. Regardless
of the setting, however, conditions were very poor and rarely
reflected any aspect of humane treatment. During the first
year of operation, under the superintendent Dr. Horace A.
Buttolph, the hospital admitted and treated 86 patients. Treatment
modalities at the time included general and local depletion,
medicine, baths, exercise, and regulation of diet. Medical
treatment was supplemented by "moral treatment," with emphasis
on creating an atmosphere of serenity.
In 1907 Dr. Henry A. Cotton became the medical director, and a
new era in the treatment of mental diseases began. Among other improvements,
Dr. Cotton is credited with abolishing all forms of
mechanical restraints and implementing daily staff meetings to
discuss patient care. Over the years, new treatments such as
hydrotherapy, occupational therapy, heavy metal therapy, insulin,
and metazol became available. In 1940 ECT and in 1947 psychosurgery
became available. Trenton Psychiatric Hospital also continued
to expand its training program from nursing to social work,
occupational therapy, and psychiatric residency.
Development of tranquilizing drugs in the mid-1950s brought about
important changes in the hospital treatment programs. Under
proper medication, many patients who had been hospitalized for
years were able to return to the community, while others became
more amenable to psychotherapy and other treatment methods. For
the first time in 100 years, the doors of many wards were unlocked,
giving patients a degree of freedom in keeping with their
progress toward recovery.
The remarkable success of the comprehensive program of services that
has evolved is measured by a significant reduction in the patient
population. On June 1, 1954, 4,237 persons were hospitalized at
Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. In 1968, 14 years later, there were
under 2,800 patients in residence (this reduction occurring in
the face of an ever-increasing admission rate), and today the
hospital has a capacity of 376 beds. The various names given to
the hospital over the years define its changing role. In 1848
it was the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum. In 1893 the name
was changed to New Jersey State Hospital at Trenton. In 1971
it received its current name, Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. Overcrowded,
understaffed, and without public support, both moral and
financial, Trenton Psychiatric Hospital was for years little
more than a custodial institution. But as more modern treatment
methods were devised and community supports and services for
rehabilitated patients were put in place, the hospital became part
of a therapeutic community.
- The American Journal of Psychiatry