In the early 20th century in Sweden, a team of doctors was sent out to survey what parts of the country mental disorders were most commonly found. In the process they saw the most horrific examples of how the mentally ill were treated, one being a 12-year-old girl kept in a cage by her family.
The city of Säter was chosen as the ideal location to build a state-of-the-art psychiatric hospital. The facility’s philosophy was to treat mental illness with clean air, cleanliness, food, and rest. The site was chosen for, among other things, its beautiful nature. The Swedish government built a number of mental hospitals during the early 20th century, many of them massive facilities. When Säter’s hospital opened in 1912, it had space for 830 patients—almost equal the population of Säter, which had 1,000 inhabitants at the time.
Unfortunately the psychiatric hospital was not free from cruel and questionable methods of its own. Insulin shock therapy to produce coma and convulsions was used as well as electric shock therapy and lobotomy. Additionally, the hospital was constructed with thick walls and a closely guarded gate to keep patients from escaping.
The introduction of new medicines in the 1950s would change the treatment of mental illness. In 1967, the responsibility for mental health care was transferred to county councils. During the 1970s, the Swedish system of institutionalized mental health care came under increasing scrutiny. The focus shifted to reducing inpatient care in favor of more open care. The hospital had shut down by the 1980s.
Today, one of the buildings at the former hospital has been converted into a museum dedicated to mental care. Here visitors can see traces of the darker history, like devices used for lobotomy of patients. The exhibition also features stories about the patients and how some of them found peace in their life at the hospital. Most notably, the exhibition also features art made by the patients, offering an insight into their inner selves.
Know Before You Go
The Säter Museum of Mental Health is located outside of the town of Säter in Sweden. It can be reached by car or by bus from the town. It is only open when tours are given and reservations have to be made beforehand. Contact information can be found on their homepage.