An Updated Act: The Mental Hospital Act

In 1935 the Mental Hospital Act provided a new approach to mental health care legislation. Governing the twelve hospitals in Ontario and the treatment of nearly 13,000 patients, this act categorized patients into four separate categories: the "mentally ill", the "mentally defective", "epileptics", and "habituates". Developed by incorporating previous pieces of legislation such as the Public Hospitals Act, the Private Hospitals Act, the Sanatoria for Consumptives Act, and the Psychiatric Hospitals Act, among others, this was the most comprehensive act to date.

This legislation dictated where an individual should be placed within the asylum system based on the illness that was diagnosed. Through this division, distinctions were made as to the 'curability' of patients. At this point, actions were taken to formally educate society in issues relating to mental illness. Travelling mental health clinics were legislated under the authority of the Ontario Department of Health. Although much of the focus of these clinics was likely on issues related to the very popular eugenics movement of the time, trained nurses travelled throughout the province and were equipped to answer any questions that the public may have had.

Mental health legislation was at the forefront of many political decisions throughout the Victorian era. As the recipients of a large quantity of provincial funding, the public and the government were interested in the successful functioning of asylums. Within the legislation there is a marked evolution from construction, to administration, to the actual definitions necessary for the system to function. Given the significant shifts in the practice of mental health care, the Mental Health Act has been amended considerably since 1935. The initial enthusiasm for legislating mental health may have suffered from the changing tide of social opinion, but the legislation clearly demonstrates the constant presence of asylums in public life.