Nurses and the Moral Treatment of Suicidal Patients in 19th-Century France




Nursing, Suicide Prevention, Psychiatry, Moral Treatment


With the decriminalization of suicide and its reconceptualization as a psychiatric problem in 19th-century France, nurses were recognized as playing an important role in its prevention and treatment. Focusing pri-marily on 19th-century psychiatric studies on suicide and on psychiatric nursing staff, the objective of this article is twofold: 1) to examine early treatment and prevention methods in the emerging medical branch of psychiatry; and 2) to situate the role of nursing staff in early 19th-century French asylums in implementing these methods. More specifically, I will focus on the nurses’ crucial role in the moral treatment of suicidal patients and the application of the non-restraint method, as it was developed by Philippe Pinel (1745–1826) in France and John Conolly (1794–1866) in England. I will argue that these non-coercive reforms in the treat-ment of psychiatric and suicidal patients contributed to discussions among alienists about the model profile of a nurse and to the progressive development of the nursing profession (before its official recognition as such and the establishment of formal training programs at the end of the 19th century in France).