Webinar returns next week at special time

On 24 February at a special time (1400 CET), David Roth of the Australian National University will present in the PANSOC webinar series (email jessicad@oslomet.no if you need a link).

The effects of the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic on mental patients in New South Wales – Work-In-Progress

Before the current pandemic, there has been relatively little research on the effects of the 1918-1919 pandemic on the mentally ill, even though its sequelae of persistent mental and physical afflictions among the general population have been well-established in the literature. During 1919, 180 patients in New South Wales (NSW) asylums died from influenza, a crude mortality rate of 8.4 per cent. An unknown number of patients recovered. The case notes for a major Sydney asylum, Callan Park, indicate that surviving patients may have suffered an exacerbation of their psychiatric condition, a form of ‘long flu’. The notes also show that influenza was the underlying cause of mental illness at admission in some cases. Although recording practices at Callan Park and other NSW asylums were patchy, the surviving evidence nevertheless suggests that there were significant gender differences for mortality and infection rates. The age distribution of influenza mortality and infection also appears to be somewhat different than for the general population of NSW. It did not follow the famous ‘W-shaped curve’. In this presentation, I discuss my preliminary results, and explain my methodology and its limitations. I also examine the prevention measures which were undertaken and discuss their efficacy in crowded asylum environments. The special vulnerability of mental patients in crowded asylums underlines the importance of precautionary preparations for persons under institutional care during epidemics, especially the aged, or persons with mental or physical disability. We have still not learnt this lesson with COVID.

Dr David T. Roth is a Campus Visitor at the School of History at the Australian National University. He completed a PhD thesis in July 2020 on the topic ‘Life, Death and Deliverance at Callan Park Hospital for the Insane 1877 to 1923’. He has particular interests in the mortality of the mentally ill, aged care and the history of medications at this period. His publications include ‘Chemical Restraints at Callan Park Hospital for the Insane before 1900’ in Health and History. David has contributed to the Civil Liberties Association’s submission to the Royal Commission on Aged Care. He is currently researching the effects of the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic on mental patients in NSW and the efficacy of bacterial vaccines at this period.

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