In the meantime it must not be forgotten that the people of the Middle Ages, even when they thought of insane and psychoneurotic persons as the subjects of diabolic possession, felt themselves under the necessity of providing proper physical care for these victims of disease or evil spirits, and as we know actually made excellent provision for them. Not only were the insane given shelter and kept from injuring themselves and others, but in many ways much better care was provided for them than has been the custom down almost to our own time. They had many fewer insane to care for; life was not so strenuous, or rather fussy, as it is in our time ; large city life had not developed, and simple existence in the country was the best possible prophylactic against many of the mental afflictions that develop so frequently in the storm and stress of competitive industrial city existence. This prophylaxis was accidental, but it was part of the life of the time that needs to be appreciated, since it represents one of the helpful hints that the Middle Ages can give us for the reduction of our own alarmingly increasing insanity rate.
They had no large asylums such as we have now, but neither did they have any poor-houses; yet we have come to recognize how readily they solved the social evils of poverty. The almshouses at Stratford, with their accommodations for an old man and his wife living together, are a typical, still extant example of this. Each small community cared for its own sufferers. They did not solve their social problems in the mass fashion which we have learned is so liable to abuse, but each little town cared to a great extent for its own mentally ailing. They were able to do this mainly because hospitals were rather frequent; and psychic cases were, at the beginning, cared for in hospitals, and when in milder state their near relatives were willing to take more bother in caring for them than in our time. Delirious states due to fever had not yet been definitely differentiated from the acute insanities, and all these cases then were taken in by the hospitals. This was an excellent thing for patients, because they came under hospital care early; and one of the developments that must come in our modern hospitals is a psychopathic ward in every one of them, for patients will be saved the worst developments of their affection.
The better-to-do classes found refuges for their non-violent insane in certain monasteries and convents, or in parts of monastic establishments particularly set aside for this purpose. When the patient was of the higher nobility, he was often put in charge of a monk or of several religious, and confined in a portion of his own or a kinsman's castle and cared for for years. There are traditions of similar care for the peasantry who were connected with monastic establishments, and sometimes small houses were set apart for their use on the monastery grounds. As cities grew in extent, certain hospitals received mental patients as well as the physically ailing, keeping them segregated. After a time some of these hospitals were entirely set aside for this purpose. Bedlam in England, which had been the old Royal Bethlehem Hospital for the care of all forms of illness, came to be just before the end of the thirteenth century exclusively for the care of the insane. In Spain particularly the asylums for the insane were well managed, and came to be models for other countries. This development in Spain is sometimes attributed to the Moors, but there is absolutely no reason for this attribution, except the desire to minimize Christianity's influence, even though this effort should attempt the impossible feat of demonstrating Mohammedanism as an organizer of charity and social service. Some of the developments of their care for the insane in the Middle Ages are very interesting. Before this period closed, there was a custom established at Bedlam by which those who had been insane but had become much better were allowed to leave the institution. This was true, even though apparently there might be no friends to care for them particularly, or to guarantee their conduct or their return, in case of redevelopment of their symptoms. This amounted practically to the open-door system. The authorities of the hospital, however, made one requirement. Those who had been insane and were allowed to leave Bedlam were required to wear a badge or plate on the arm, indicating that they had been for some time in this hospital for the insane. These people came to be known as Bedlamites, or Bedlams, or Bedlamers, and attracted so much sympathy from the community generally that some of the ne'er-do-wells, the tramps and sturdy vagrants who have always been with the world as a problem quite as well as the insane, obtained possession of these insignia by fraud or stealth, and imposed on the charity of the people of the time.
It is easy to understand that wherever these patients were recognized by their badges as having been for a time in an asylum for the insane, they were treated quite differently from ordinary people. Though allowed to leave the asylum, and left, as it were, without surveillance, they were really committed to the care of the community generally. No one who knows the history is likely to irritate a person who has been insane, nor are such people treated in the same spirit as those who are supposed to have been always normal, but out of pity and sympathy they are particularly cared for. They are not expected to live the same workaday existence as mentally healthy individuals, but their pathway in life is smoothed as much as possible. Many an unfortunate incident in modern times is due to the fact that a previous inmate of an asylum is irritated beyond his power to control himself in the ordinary affairs of life by those who know nothing of his previous mental weakness. It is not unlikely that our open-door system will have to be supplemented by some such arrangement as this medieval requirement of a badge, and that we can actually get suggestions from the medieval people with regard to the care of the insane that will be valuable for us.