There’s a reason why old psychiatric hospitals have been the setting for numerous books, TV shows, and horror movies. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, mental hospitals were often understaffed and overcrowded. At the time, doctors didn’t understand mental health, and many of their “treatments” were ineffective at best.
In the late twentieth century, many countries deinstitutionalized these hospitals. Most buildings were hastily abandoned and left to rot. Today, urban explorers and photographers capture the forgotten hallways of asylums around the world. From Italy to Norway to Japan, here are the creepiest abandoned mental hospitals and the history they left behind.
Whittingham Hospital In London, England
The largest psychiatric hospital in Britain, Whittingham Hospital pioneered the use of electroencephalograms, which record electrical brain activities. The hospital operated for almost 100 years without incident, but in 1965, abuse allegations emerged against the staff of the St. Luke’s division.
Patients were reportedly kept outside during cold weather, put to bed in vests, locked in bathrooms, and fed mixed-together spare food as “slops.” Although these allegations were denied, both the matron and head nurse retired after the scandal. Whittingham Hospital officially closed in 1995 and remains desolate today.
Riverview Hospital In Coquitlam, British Columbia
Riverview Hospital is one of the most commonly photographed psychiatric asylums, even though it remained open until 2010. In 1913, nine years after Riverview’s inception, the building sheltered 480 patients. By 1956, that number rose to 4,306.
Unlike other abandoned hospitals, Riverview likely declined due to an increase in anti-psychotics and outpatient care. The patients there were treated well for the most part, and people criticized its closing as denying the mentally ill of adequate housing. Nonetheless, Riverview has been deathly silent since 2012. Its fate has yet to be seen.
Poveglia Asylum In Poveglia, Italy
Poveglia is a small Italian island between Venice and Lido. In 1776, the island became a quarantine for those infected with the plague. Over 100 years later, the existing buildings were converted into a mental hospital, resulting in Poveglia Asylum.
Because Poveglia hasn’t been fully investigated, there is little reliable information on patient conditions. Local legend says that a mad doctor tortured his patients with lobotomies and experiments before jumping off of the former bell tower. Today, Poveglia is strictly off-limits to visitors, but those who have visited still found human bones on the shoreline.
Lier Psychiatric Hospital In Lier, Norway
Lier Hospital, also called Lier Sykehus, is one of the most haunted locations in Norway. This abandoned psychiatric asylum has a dark history that authorities would rather forget. Starting in 1926, doctors and nurses carried out experiments on patients, often involving electroshock and the use of LSD (the U.S. Department of Defense funded the latter).
Because Lier has covered its tracks by claiming that all treatment was “voluntary,” little information about the procedures has surfaced. It finally closed in 1986. Today, some buildings are still in operation for psychiatric patients, while the rest remains untouched.
Fernald State School In Waltham, Massachusetts
Walter E. Fernald State School acted as an educational institution for children with mental disabilities. Originally a sanatorium, the school later received public funding for education. The first superintendent, Walter Fernald, advocated for eugenics, and the staff experimented on the students without their knowledge. When authorities investigated these experiments, they shut the school down in 2014.
The most notorious study was the Quaker Oats radiation experiment. In the 1950s, MIT researchers laced students’ cereal with radioactive tracers to observe how the body absorbs calcium and iron. As of 2014, Fernald State School emptied, and it continues to sit abandoned.
Magdalene Asylum In Cork, Ireland
Magdalene Asylum was a Protestant (and later Roman Catholic) hospital that opened in 1805. The treatment targeted “fallen women,” a term for women who engaged in prostitution or sexual promiscuity. Magdalene was part of a larger system of hospitals that opened laundries in the U.K., U.S., Canada, Australia, and Sweden.
The asylum advertised itself as correcting, rather than punishing, women. But when a mass grave was discovered in 1993, these claims were called into question. The Magdalene Asylum closed that year, and the state issued a formal apology and compensation for patients in 2013. Today, the building serves as a silent reminder for the patients’ treatment.
Trenton Psychiatric Hospital In Trenton And Ewing, New Jersey
Trenton Psychiatric Hospital has entrenched itself as one of the world’s most disturbing psychiatric wards. The building first opened in 1848, but the real horrors didn’t begin until 1907 when Dr. Henry Cotton joined the staff.
After spirochaete was confirmed to cause syphilis, Cotton suspected that infections cause mental illness as well. To remove the “infection,” Cotton pulled teeth, removed organs, and even chopped off limbs. Although Cotton claimed an 85% success rate, historical documents prove that his work led to many fatalities. His methods (mainly pulling teeth) continued until 1960 when the hospital finally closed. It now sits abandoned.
Lennox Castle Hospital In Lennoxtown, Scotland
When Lennox Castle Hospital first received patients in 1936, it was lauded for being far ahead of its time. But despite its cinema shows, stage, and recreational areas, the hospital became overcrowded, underfunded, and understaffed. As a result, vulnerable patients were left to fend for themselves.
In 1989, a study by the British Medical Journal found that one-fourth of Lennox’s patients were malnourished and underweight. Released patients claimed that they received violent punishments and medication even though they didn’t need it. In 1987, Lennox shut down. Although a fire damaged the building in 2008, it still remains intact.
Asakura Psychiatric Hospital In Saitama, Japan
Asakura Psychiatric Hospital closed in 2001 after a government investigation. Authorities discovered that at least 77 patients died there within a year. Nurses forced IV feeding onto patients, and this insufficient nourishment resulted in organ failure. It’s unclear why nurses decided on this treatment for the mentally ill.
On top of that, authorities found that nurses randomly selected IV patients and possibly pocketed patients’ care funds. Since Asakura closed down, it has been partially demolished and transformed into a supermarket. Parts of the buildings remain, however, and the site is now considered haunted.
Severalls Asylum In Mile End, England
In 1910, psychiatrists built Severalls Asylum to employ a “trial-and-error” method toward patients. Most of the time, patients engaged in art and music programs that were deemed acceptable for the mentally ill. But behind closed doors, psychiatrists used the asylum to test their theories on over 2,000 patients.
The most notable experiment involved trying to cure women of “madness” through electro-convulsive therapy and lobotomies. In the early 1990s, Severalls Asylum partially closed but remained open for elderly stroke patients. Over time, the asylum emptied. It is now visibly damaged due to vandalism and arson.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum In Weston, West Virginia
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum would be the second-largest psychiatric hospital in the world if it were still operating. Even so, it struggled with overpopulation for its entire career. Despite being built to fit 250 patients, nurses handled over 2,400 patients in the 1950s. As a result, residents didn’t receive the care they needed.
One reason for its overcrowding is that people would send relatives there for a variety of reasons, including “moodiness” and “laziness.” Patients would receive inadequate nutrition and be locked in cages if they couldn’t be controlled. In 1994, the hospital closed. The first floor acts as a museum, while visitors can tour the other four floors to see the abandoned areas.
Beechworth Lunatic Asylum In Beechworth, Australia
Beechworth Lunatic Asylum opened in 1867 as one of the largest psychiatric hospitals at the time. The staff quickly became known for their strict regulations and flexibility regarding the word “lunacy.” People could be admitted with the word of an acquaintance and two signatures from medical practitioners. To be discharged, the patient needed eight signatures, so it was a lot harder to leave than enter.
Today, Beechworth Hospital is only partially abandoned. Two businessmen bought the building in 2013, and they transformed part of it into a tourism and arts-based business. Much of the asylum remains untouched for historic preservation, and they offer nightly ghost tours.
Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital In Gwangju-Si, South Korea
In 2019, CNN called the Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital one of the freakiest places in the world. South Koreans claim that Gonjiam is haunted due to rumors of insane doctors and horrific deaths. However, the truth behind this psychiatric hospital is much less exciting.
Gonjiam closed in the 1990s due to unsanitary conditions which were caused by sewage problems. Since the staff didn’t have enough money to fix it, they abandoned the building. Gonjiam is permanently closed, but numerous urban explorers, tourists, and paranormal investigators break in to explore its creepy atmosphere.
Denbigh Asylum In Denbigh, Wales
In 1995, Denbigh Asylum closed after 147 years of service. This psychiatric hospital in Denbigh, Wales, was the epitome of abusive mental hospitals. Despite being built to accommodate 200 patients, it housed 1,500 patients at one time.
Although the hospital’s founders wanted to make patients their number one priority, staff did the opposite. Between 1942 and 1944, 20 patients were selected for lobotomies. The building is half-destroyed by a fire, but visitors can still find cages where staff locked in the patients. Today, the building continues to decay and is vandalized by visitors.
Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra in Volterra, Italy
Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra looks like something out of a horror movie, and it has a similar backstory to one. The site’s original director, Dr. Luigi Scabia, designed the spacious building so that patients could feel unfettered. But during the mid-twentieth century, their care changed.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Ospedale Psichiatrico housed 6,000 patients, who were shoved into one pavilion. There were only two toilets for every 200 people. Staff administered electroshock treatment, mandated pill and poison testing, and isolation for patients. In 1978, the center shut down due to the Basaglia Law, and it has remained abandoned ever since.
Gartloch Hospital In Gartcosh, Scotland
For 100 years, Gartloch Hospital treated both psychiatric ailments and physical diseases. At its height in 1904, Gartloch sheltered 830 people. They included sanatoriums for tuberculosis and accommodated wounded soldiers during World War II. During this time, staff transferred their psychiatric patients to “temporary” wards, where they often remained full-time.
In 1996, Gartloch closed down after transferring all of its patients. Some buildings were torn down and replaced with luxury apartments, but the main building is still standing. Urban explorers and photographers have captured Gartloch’s gradual decay.
St. John’s Hospital In Bracebridge Heath, England
Originally called Lincolnshire Lunatic Asylum, St. John’s Hospital opened its doors in 1852. By 1902, the building expanded to four times its original size, housing over 680 patients. After St. John’s closed down in 1990, it still looked stellar because inmates tended the building during its operation. Now, it’s a shell of its former self.
The staff of St. John’s acted no differently than other mental health professionals at the time. Depression was treated in the same way as schizophrenia, and brain surgery was fairly common. Although it’s illegal to visit St. John’s, some photographers sneaked in to capture haunting images of the building.
Sai Ying Pun Psychiatry Hospital In Hong Kong
Sai Ying Pun was originally a community center. Before it became a psychiatric asylum, it housed English nursing staff and Japanese soldiers during World War II. In 1961, it housed psychiatric outpatients, which gave it the nickname Old Mental Hospital.
The Old Mental Hospital closed down in 1971. Afterward, the building suffered from two fires. The Hong Kong Government decided to convert most of Sai Ying Pun into a new community center. The facade of the psychiatric hospital, however, remains untouched. In 2015, it was declared a historical monument.
Tranquille Sanatorium In Kamloops, British Columbia
In 1907, ranchers built Tranquille Sanatorium to treat tuberculosis patients. Over time, a small community known as Tranquille formed around it. Then in 1958, the staff closed the tuberculosis center and opened a hospital for the mentally ill. The building officially shut down in 1983.
Tranquille Sanatorium has remained empty for decades, and urban explorers often traverse its underground transportation tunnels. Although there are plans to turn the site into a resort, Tranquille still stands for now. Its current owner, Tranquille Farm Fresh, offers tours of the abandoned location.
Athens Lunatic Asylum In Athens, Ohio
Athens Lunatic Asylum, also called The Ridges, opened in 1874. During its operation, the staff sheltered Civil War veterans, children, women, and anyone else who was labeled as insane. Their first-ever patient was a 12-year-old girl with epilepsy, thought to be possessed by a demon.
Unlike other psychiatric hospitals at the time, Athens Asylum avoided torture and focused on holistic healing through gardening, counseling, and spending time outdoors. Outside the building, a graveyard with 1,900 unidentified patients (labeled by a number) lay buried. The Ridges closed down in 1993, and part of the building assimilated into Ohio University. The rest remains abandoned.