Children of Darkness

Children of Darkness

1983, Health  -   70 Comments
Ratings: 8.42/10 from 114 users.

This is an Oscar nominated 1983 documentary film exploring the issue of mentally ill children and the institutions they lived in. The film not only exposed the abuse in mental institutions but it also educated people that mental illness can happen to anyone.

Hundred and sixty mentally ill and emotionally disturbed children lived at the Eastern State School and Hospital (now closed) in Trevose, Pennsylvania.

They were psychotic, schizophrenic; they suffered from organic brain damage and autism. Some were hyperactive, some totally withdrawn, some were suicidal. Many of the children at Eastern were chronically mentally ill and never saw what we see, heard what we hear, thought in ways we do. Eastern State was the largest children's state psychiatric hospital in America. Each child got food, mediation and a place to sleep.

For those who could benefit from it there was almost no one-to-one or any other form of psychotherapy. The major therapy at Eastern was drugs. Almost every child there was getting some form of psychotropic medication; medication that alters the brain's chemistry in an attempt to control psychotic behavior.

Another popular place for dealing with out-of-control teenagers was the private residential treatment center Elane (now also closed). If you broke one of the rules or your attitude wasn't right you get yelled at which was the main method of "therapy." The teenagers who went there were not mentally ill, psychiatric hospitals didn't work for them. They were alcoholics, drug addicts and drug pushers. They were teenagers who had victimized others and themselves.

The kids at Elan were almost all white, from upper-middle class and wealthy homes. Their parents paid more than $20,000 a year to send them there for treatment. But those were children who had acted out often violently against their parents. Day in, day out, life in Elan was constant confrontation and unrelenting pressure. The feelings and negative attitudes were broken down, dissected and torn apart. The idea was to change the children's behavior.

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Julie Lewis
1 month ago

And btw my a huge thank you to the director or producer of this film. I wish it could go more viral. But thank you for this video .

Julie Lewis
1 month ago

As a surviving patient of ESSH, and having already commented. I wonder if too our mewest governor Al Shapiro is going keep this horror story hidden and kept under the rug also. Idk about rest of Bensalem State Police but Det D Bair can just go to hell. I watched them kill that girl!!! And bc "he can't find records of her in Harrisburg".... We'll go figure. Who leaves records around a young 12 year old girl kicked and punched to death. But f**k him too. Someone owes us. Shapiro busted other MH schools, nursing homes etc.. wtf about us? WHAT THE F*K ABOUT US PENNSYLVANIA?????

2 months ago

Anyone else just shocked by the way Autism Spectrum Disorders are depicted on this documentary?? I’m a speech therapist who’s been on a diagnostic team with kids/young adults on the spectrum and I was just completely blown away at how misunderstood and stigmatized Autism Spectrum Disorders were not even that long ago. I realize this documentary was written in the 1980s but goodness… Brain damage?? Virus that destroys the brain???? Come on people!!! My heart breaks for these kids on the documentary.

1 year ago

I was there in 88 and 89 90

1 year ago

Was anyone there in 1970s or 80s? Do you remember Dr. Jerome E Thompson?

Malcolm Mcewan
2 years ago

Doctors of darkness more like, using people as experiments , they are scum and should be given a taste if their own barbaric treatment and left to rot,

Lori Halderson
2 years ago

Insanity is all mandated under the laws of the United Nations. The devil has taken the non-subjective scientific definition on this planet and turned it into a pure lie. Kensington, PA, the Irish baby concentration camps, the abomination mental institutes and other defiling concentration camps was all created to defile normal life with ungodly unneeded garb as an image of the devil. You are disgusting and that is why you hated the family and the creator of this planet...

Greg Demeter
2 years ago

I was there in 1975-76 and I ran away from there, when I was supposed to be there for 6 Months....I remember having a Guitar there too and their Psych Doctor told me that all I had was an Anger Problem, Ha! They had Dances there and it was Co-Ed we smoked Cigarettes and were given Thorzine....I was put in a Straight Jacket and Rubber 12 years old?! I was in those kinds of places for most of my Younger really was painful to go through and it really hurt my life.....Being subjected to so much Emotional rejection and pain, I had to learn how to grow up very fast...

2 years ago

I was there at the forensic unit locked down for over three years beating and drugged daily by doctor Camille and Dr wolf they didn't care strapped to a bed for days or locked in a room with a mat for days crazy once I turned eighteen transferred to Norristown hospital and a year later a free man only thing good was the teachers school made time fly by still have scars from the beatings but moved on and life goes on but vivid dreams haunt me daily

Susan Wood
2 years ago

It seems they don't teach this in college anymore ? The study of places like this still marks my memory.

Jesse Cassidy
2 years ago

I lived there for over 4 years and I was actually one of the last kids to leave when it shut down. It is my personal belief that this place was a large scale test facility for the pharmaceutical industry to test psychiatric medication on children who were wards of the state (which I was) with full immunity. The amount of times my medication was changed without good reason or before the current medication was allowed the time needed to actually have an effect is what substantiates my claim. Every couple days my medication was changed and this went on for years. I cannot tell you how many times I was physically assaulted via dangerous restraining techniques and 4 and 8 point restraint beds accompanied by shots of thorazine and lithium. Waking up with my hip and leg saturated with blood from them violently shaking the needle during injection.
The amount of kids (myself included) I've personally witnessed having their faces rubbed into the rug while being restrained and not resisting which resulted in serious burns & scabbing to one whole side of the face was appalling.
The majority of the staff that were relied upon to restrain the patients were early 20's to early 30's males who obviously had no credentials or proper training when it came to working with troubled and mentally disabled youth and a majority of them should have been brought up on charges of assault and battery with intent to maim and disfigure.
I was told during one of my last days there "and remember I was one of the last ones to leave in 1996" by a business person that was on a tour of the facility which I believe was being led by Governor Tom Ridge that the property was sold to Boeing and that they planned on using the property as a place to test 1/4th size experimental aircraft.

I am glad this place is gone.
Good riddance.

Arthur Garrett
2 years ago

It is very amazing how almost 90% of you guys said that Eastern State School and hospital was pure hell after watching that video I was in eastern state school and Hospital between 1990 to 1995 my fiance was Yvonne farmer now Yvonne had manic depression and every time when she cut herself or try to harm herself the staff there in Jameson and Eddington always treated her with respect they made sure not to hurt her when they brought her to Eddington so for all you people who keep downgrading and making it seem like eastern state was such a bad place maybe you should have looked at yourself and thought what could have I done that could have made it better because from 1990 to 1995 none of that stuff was happening and I know because I was very popular in eastern state school and hospital with my friend Jason Conklin

Jule Lewis
3 years ago

I'm at this again ....I did not watch after I last commented. Been curled in a ball awhile now in tears squeezing my eyes because of my own memories and experinces. About Briam. I knew him there. And there's more to than what's shown. He was a very fun and nice kid. But it always seemed staff would single him out and provoke him. I was on Unit 2. He was in unit across from that did not have seclusion rooms. Unit 2 did. Often in evenings doors bagging loudly 5 , 6 , 7 males having half on the floor or carrying him face down to secluded him. I saw a young girl beaten by male and female staff in unit 2. Punching her in the head and twisting her , kicking her. One of my worst memories because the girl died hours later. And those staff walked around acted like it never happened. No remorse , nothing. It was a place of terrible violence and abuse. Always on guard. I was quite a few times for no reason attacked by girls in elevators. They would push staff out and I'd be alone in there with them being beaten. And I was punished as much as they were. It was horrible. Absolute dark living hell.

Jule Lewis
3 years ago

I was here 150 days in 1984-1985. I hated it and faked and lied my way out. Too much scarey and horrible stuff I saw. I'm only 5 minutes into this don't think I can take much more watching it , I'm in tears from my own memories. I already remember 2 of these boys..... sorry but i can't watch any further.

Franco Catucci
4 years ago

I was there from 1974 - 1976 i remember it was a horrible place . State of pa sent me there for evaluation i was a child of the state could do anything they want with you in those days , that what i was told in later years.

4 years ago

ESSH was my home in 1987-88.
We were there to survive. It was a very bad, dark, sad experience. I've found life after Eastern to be at times much more difficult than being there. What I find heart wrenching is that one hand, I'm happy to know it's been demolished and is now a mall/hotel; the other hand, there were more than memories there, but many deaths. Both unborn and born. So I see it as a desecration that there are no memorials. No signs, or even scant information about it. Like it never even happened. Just forget it. This documentary barely scratched the surface of EESH. I was a fortunate case. I had caring, loving, devoted parents. I also had a very good doctor who got me back home, but it's the state. It took six months. But it was all about survival in the end.
Thank you to those who worked there; who cared about us. Your work was not in vain.
Unit 7(December 1987); Croyden cottage(January 1988-June 1988). Treated by Dr. Conrad. No medications, no restraints, no seclusion. But many other traumatic events befell me which I won't speak of here.
I'm finally getting some help for flashbacks, insomnia, anxiety.
Thank you for reading my brief story.

5 years ago

Forcing him to lay down on his bed, not listening to him saying "get off me"... then injecting him with some sh*t. Well done dickhead.

5 years ago

Billy is the real deal

5 years ago

Not sure I should watch this after reading the comments. I watched the history of the mad house, my mental health lecturer recommended and was very interesting but also slightly disturbing. This came up recommended next. Caution required I think ?

5 years ago

I'm utterly lost for words...

5 years ago

I was at Eastern in 1991. That place was a dumping ground for kids they didn't know what else to do with. Many of the staff should have been charged with abuse. Even sexual abuse was going on. Kids died there then they closed it. There should have been a class action lawsuit for all the damage that place caused.

5 years ago

There is a large level of BS and bias in this film and description. I VOLUNTEERED in a cottage with these boys and yes they were mostly autistic and mentally ill. My kid threw a caseworker through a plate glass window.

But....Not a day went by without volunteers working with them and we went out ALL THE TIME at least 3 times per week on field trips. To play at the state park or to Greenwood Dairy for ice cream, etc. Even though they'd rip off their clothing, fondle themselves and other typical behaviors.

The REAL pity was NO PARENTS or family members EVER showed up when I was there.

6 years ago

I was in Eastern State in 94-95. Thank god some things had changed by the time I got there. Eastern State closed back in 95 or 96.

6 years ago

In 1985 I used to volunteer at Eastern State School and Hospital. I had a puppet ministry at their chapel on Sundays, took a few kids clothes shopping in the fall, chaperoned at school dances and donated pillows. Other Christian groups and individuals volunteered there however they certainly could have used many more. I especially remember boy named Ray who was such a wonderful kid. I wish I could find out how he's doing today.

6 years ago

I found this news report about Brian McAnally:

This is Michael Mixerr. This news review will be an update about Brian McAnally. This news review will be about the death of Brian Mcanally.

On the date of July 28, 2016, Brian McAnally passed away in the group home he was living in. At the time of death, Brian was found dead in his dorm at the group home he was living in at the time. It was due to conditions regarding his health that he passed away. His mania had taken a turn for the worst despite getting emotional healing through therapy. Brian attended meetings with a behavior therapist and counselor on a regular basis. Despite all that, Brian was thriving in his group home better than he did at Eastern State School. Brian McAnally was 53. He left several family members behind whom he hadn’t seen for years.

In 1983 (after Brian McAnally turned 18), he was moved to a brand new group home which was located 4 blocks away from his fathers home in Kensington, Pennsylvania near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania after living in Eastern State School for 4 years. Brian was thriving and doing pretty well in his group home better than he did at Eastern State School. He wasn’t as anxious or aggressive despite having been diagnosed with mania and schizophrenia earlier in his life. Later on, he was diagnosed with mental retardation.

Deborah Jesic
6 years ago

I wish I could do something,I live in Pa,but 100 miles away

7 years ago

I didn't like the screaming part.

Wendy Lyne
8 years ago

If you count being locked in a seclusion room for hours therapy? That was there therapy for us normal kids!! Thank God Eastern State is done!! Your documentary is mild to what really went on in there!! An

8 years ago

Where are the mentally ill of today? Certainly not in state institutions. St. Ronnie closed all state mental faacilities. They are roaming our streets in need of help. Sadly, America aint in the giving mood.

8 years ago

This documentary is a great example of how ignorant humanity is on the topic on nutritional science. Dr Abram Hoffer was a pioneer in orthomolecular medicine and he mainly used various b vitamins to treat mental illness with great success. Though every person is different, his work proves that nutritional deficiencies affect many of those labeled with so called "mentally illness".

Eric Lawson
8 years ago

Brians Father is great kinda old to have a son of Brians age. He does love him though. The others perhaps even Brian and his girlfriend should be given birth control training.I doubt he will live any kind of a normal life. There is no easy answer to what to do with theses kids. Sad .Did not know there were so many. My heart goes out to them !!!

9 years ago

The human species is the only one that contains poor sods like these. In all other species natural selection would weed them out. It is a sad situation and will only escalate.

Eric Lawson
9 years ago

It is so sad to see these lives fall through the cracks. Money is the key to filling these cracks !!

9 years ago

All those people and all that effort to strap him into a bed, when just one could sit there and stroke his hand. How often do you think they tried that?

Brogan M
9 years ago

11.02 - the social worker used the term "mildly r*tarded" IN FRONT of the kid. I could have almost screamed at my laptop when I saw that. In this was only 20 years ago - chees.

9 years ago

This was very disturbing and depressing.
I might try and look up some of these institutions like South Beach and Elan, to find out more about them.
Yesterday, a desperate mother of a mentally challenged 20 year old, with the mentality of a 2 year old, recently tried to drop off her daughter at a government office, because she couldn't take care of her any more, and there was no place to put her. This was in Arnprior, Ontario.
The police were summoned, and some big shots finally met with her and miraculously found her daughter a spot in a group home. Only a week before, she'd been refused help.
Canada has been in the process of closing psychiatric institutions and paring down the few group homes that are left for these children.