Surgery of the Soul: LPOTL Lobotomy

This is an episode from the true crime comedy podcast Last Podcast on the Left.  This is the second part of a three-part series covering the disturbing and bizarre history of the lobotomy.  This episode focusses primarily on American physician Walter Jackson Freeman II who unethically performed lobotomies along with his surgically trained partner James W. Watts.  While there is a lot of dark humor throughout there is also a broad introduction to the ways in which lobotomy was popularized and performed publicly by Freeman and Watts.  The precursor to the lobotomy, the “leucotomy”, was performed by Portuguese neurologist Egas Moniz.  The leucotomy was a psychosurgery that Freeman eagerly embraced as a cure for all mental health issues.  Several cases are covered throughout the episode including those who were not suffering debilitating illnesses before being subject to the invasive procedure and the largely negative (if not brutally fatal) side effects faced afterward.  There is a large discussion around the frontal lobe being the person’s connection to humanity or the literal soul and the removal of such being the ultimate negative side effect of lobotomies.  An interesting topic is that of religion and how those who received lobotomies never returned to practicing largely due to their inability to feel or express human emotion such as faith.  Freeman would recklessly popularize the lobotomy by performing the “transorbital lobotomy” which would not require a surgeon such as Watts to be present.  Freeman would go on to perform thousands of lobotomies including those on children resulting in countless deaths.  It is a hard episode to listen to with graphic descriptions of a wildly understudied procedure that required a borderline disconnection from humanity on the doctor’s part to perform. 

“A Brilliant Madness” Documentary

A really interesting source I discovered was a short documentary PBS did in 2002 on John Forbes Nash Jr., who I will be doing my digitally enhanced project on this semester for History of Mental Health. John Nash was a mathematician who won the Nobel Prize in 1994. However, Nash was also diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1959. While the video I found cannot be accessed on PBS anymore, I did find if for free on YouTube!

George Kalarritis, Clinical Psychologist. “A Brilliant Madness. The Story of John Nash (2002) HD.” YouTube Video. YouTube, December 31, 2016.

Possession or Hysteria?

Looking back at the Salem Witch Trials today, most people would not jump to the conclusion that the afflicted women in these cases were actually bewitched or possessed at the time. While there are lots of theories as to what happened, most scholars believe that the women were experiencing symptoms of Hysteria, which can be brought on by severe stress and anxiety.

Hysteria actually has two definitions, and both meanings are used when describing the witch trial events. defines the term as:

  1. an uncontrollable outburst of emotion or fear, often characterized by irrationality, laughter, weeping, etc. (The town of Salem was described as being in a state of mass hysteria during the witch hunt.)

2. Psychoanalysis. a psychoneurotic disorder characterized by violent emotional outbreaks, disturbances of sensory and motor functions, and various abnormal effects due to autosuggestion. (The mental illness that scholars believed the young girls had that caused them to have uncontrollable “fits”.)

It’s also historically known to be a women’s disease because it was believed to originate from the uterus or womb in women’s bodies. For more information on the long history of Hysteria, please click on the medical journal article linked in the citation below.

Tasca, Cecilia, Mariangela Rapetti, Mauro Giovanni Carta, and Bianca Fadda. “Women And Hysteria In The History Of Mental Health.” Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health : CP & EMH 8 (October 19, 2012): 110–19.

Rosemary Kennedy

For my research topic for this semester I have decided to focus on Rosemary Kennedy. This website provides a great background to her story and how the Kennedy’s handled her mental disability. The article touches on how Rosemary became disabled and how that led to her eventual prefrontal lobotomy that left her essentially unresponsive for the remainder of her life.

My Personal Experience With Anxiety

For this Tuesday’s blog post, I have decided to explain my experience with my own personal mental health notion: anxiety.

The first time that I began to take notice of my anxiety was around my years of high school. I would constantly worry about things that were beyond my control. Even to this day, I still continue to do so. One of the main features that I’ve noticed about my anxiety is that it typically tends to revolve around the question “What if…?” What if I don’t get this done on time? What if I don’t meet these requirements? What if I’m just not good enough?

In order to kind of break the cycle, I would participate in a few high school plays in order to give my mind something to focus on, rather than worrying. I’ll never forget in one of the plays that I was in, one of my classmates described her anxiety; and it was possibly the most accurate explanation of anxiety that my ears had ever heard. While I cannot remember exactly what she said word for word, her description went along something like this: Everywhere you go, there is water pouring in; through the cracks of the walls, up through the floor, dripping from the ceiling, leaking under the doors. But the thing is; you’re the only one who can see it.

Even though I do still have anxiety, and have panic attacks here and there, I have found different ways to manage it, such as grounding, breathing, and distracting myself by baking and cleaning.

Civil War Veterans and Suicide


The research topic I have chosen is suicide in the 19th century . It was a surprise to me to find so much information on the high rate of suicide among Civil War veterans. I added this link which provides some interesting information about the emotional toll on survivors and their families with particular emphasis on Southerners.

The Penrose Hypothesis

Mentioned briefly in one of our Wikipedia readings last week, the Penrose Hypothesis “proposes an inverse relationship between the relative number of psychiatric beds available to a population and it’s total number of prisoners”. Through various forms of research in many different countries, Mark Toynbee’s paper discovers that with a reduction of psychiatric beds comes […]

Emil Kraepelin (1856-1926)

Considered to be the “Father of Modern Psychiatry,” Kraepelin believed that biology and genetics played a role in psychiatric illnesses. He is the first to describe schizophrenia, which he called “dementia praecox.” He also differetiated schizophrenia from manic depression (now known is bipolar disorder).

Week 2

Hello everyone! This is my #Histmental2021 post for this week! This meme to me is very relevant to the class because it discusses the nature of psychiatry. Psychiatry has evolved a ton but there is no denying that some mental illnesses cannot be cured completely. This is relevant to the readings because they discuss heavily how some believe mental health to be a social construction. The fact that some mental illnesses cannot be cured or specifically identified led to much speculation about the validity of psychiatry throughout it’s history.

See the source image

Dead and Forgotten in an Asylum Cemetery

The New York Times. An Asylum’s Final Secrets | The New York Times, 2014.

This short video is about the old Willard Asylum in New York that was built in 1869 and finally closed in 1995. Over five thousand people have died there within that time period, and they are all buried in their cemetery in unmarked graves. A retired school teacher is trying to get the state of New York to release the burial records in order to give them proper head stones so that these patients aren’t forgotten, but due to HIPAA laws, they aren’t able to share that information. She believes that not giving the patients identities further contributes to the negative stigma surrounding mental health. This relates to our Grob reading this week since it has to do with a state-run asylum that probably had significant budget restraints that prevented them from giving these patients proper burials and headstones. It’s sad because it does seem like they were just lost and thrown away.