Library Collections: Document: Full Text
Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind
A striking example of the short-sightedness of our policy may be found among the psychiatric casualties of World War I. Each such casualty has cost us over $30,000 to date. It costs an estimated $10,000 to train a fully qualified psychiatrist. Therefore, if a trained psychiatrist could have restored just one psychiatric casualty to health, he would have paid for his education and saved the government an additional $20,000. Yet even today, the number of trained psychiatrists in this country is pitifully small in relation to the need we have for their services.
This short-sightedness carries over also into the field of research and experimentation. We do not yet know enough to cure all mental illness -- in that respect, mental illness is like cancer, heart disease and other serious physical illnesses. And we will never learn more unless we make research and experimentation possible. Psychiatry stands today on the brink of discoveries which may revolutionize our way of life -- may show us all how to live more efficient and happy lives -- but it must carry on its search on a shoestring. We are still following the example of a state legislature which refused to vote $10,000 for psychiatric research, but approved $200,000 for testing for Bangs' disease among cattle.
We know how to cure much mental illness. There is every reason to believe that we can learn to cure much more if we are given an opportunity. The old adage, "Once insane, always insane," is as dated as the first "horseless carriage." We cannot excuse our negligence with regard to mental hospitals by assuming that patients can't be helped. There is help. There is hope. We must be bothered by their plight.
Why Worry? Is It Really Important?
One of the most successful escapes from the impact of disagreeable facts is to dispose of them as unimportant, as of too little significance to engage our attention.
The community leaders in a southern city had been told that mentally ill patients were being housed in the jail, that the community was totally lacking in adequate facilities for their care and that even the nearby state hospital was little better than an 18th century asylum. The principal of a grade school wanted to know: "Do we have to get so upset about this matter? Surely not many people go insane. I don't see that it's such an important problem." The speaker replied: "Madam, Surgeon General Parran recently stated that mental illness is America's number one health problem. He told the truth!"
America's number one health problem? More important than all the other diseases and illnesses which beset us? Yes, that's what the foremost authority on health problems in the United States says about mental illness.
And well he might! As previously indicated, there are six hundred thousand persons in this country today who are hospitalized because of some serious mental disorder. At least forty-five percent of the patients in hospitals at any given time are there because of mental illness. We pay over $300,000,000 per year to take care of these sick people, and our national economy loses over a billion dollars in productive capacity because of their illness. Almost two million young men -- more than for any other cause -- were eliminated-from participation in our armed forces in World War II because of some minor or major mental-emotional disorder.
But these facts do not tell the story of the importance of mental illness. They only hint at it. The real story is to be found in the care-worn faces of millions of us little people, in our inefficient and unhappy lives, in our broken homes and shattered careers, in the delinquency of our children and the defeatism of our old folks. For while many of us are not mentally ill, neither are we mentally healthy. Our lack of mental health is eating deep into the fibre of our individual lives and of our whole civilization. Mental stability and emotional health are among the greatest needs of our day -- but we don't know how to attain them.
Perhaps you agree with all this. But, you ask, what does it have to do with the way we treat our mental patients? Just this: We can learn how to make the rest of us mentally healthy only by giving the best possible treatment and care to those of us who are mentally sick.
It is from the ill that we learn how to be healthy, just as it is from the problem child that we learn about the problems of normal children. Knowledge comes not by cutting off and forgetting those persons who deviate from our "normal" standards, but by taking them in and caring for them. Their serious disorders point to weaknesses in the rest of us. If we have skilled and sensitive observers on hand to treat and care for them, we can learn the lessons the ill have to teach. The plight of our mentally ill, therefore, ought to concern us all, not only because mental illness is our nation's number one health problem, but also because the seeds of prevention can be found and nurtured only among those who are diseased.