Mental wards. Insane asylums. Sanatariums. Do those words scare you?
If so, you’re not alone.
The question then is… what makes mental wards so scary? It’s been a potent setting for fiction: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a book that shows that you do not have to add ghosts or monsters to make a story horrifying. And on TV, American Horror Story devoted an entire season to an insane asylum.
Then there’s Session 9, a 2001 movie that follows an asbestos removal crew in an abandoned mental hospital. It is filmed brilliantly, and manages to be scary and disturbing. To say anymore would give too much of the story away, and it’s best to be surprised. They’re right when they say fear is a place.
So back to the why…
I believe the fear of asylums, and mental illness, is rooted in powerlessness; being powerless to control your own mind, being powerless in your movement in the world.
The thought of losing touch with “reality” to the degree that you are locked up scares me. Not being able to tell what’s real and what’s not. Hearing voices. Seeing things that aren’t there. All terrifying. People deal with this in real life every day. It’s got to be tough. And I’m sure it’s a common fear.
Then there’s the idea of being committed. Not too long ago, involuntary incarceration in an asylum was more than just an idle fear. Check out this link at Dangerous Minds, where common traits ranging from laziness to superstition could get you locked away.
When you consider that many fears are internally generated, (a dis-ease of the mind), and mental hospitals are full of dis-eased minds, then the asylums, especially those of yesterday, are the fertile settings for horror stories.
What are some of the scariest asylum-set stories you’ve read or seen?