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A Mind That Found Itself: An Autobiography

Creator: Clifford Whittingham Beers (author)
Date: 1910
Publisher: Longmans, Green, and Co., New York
Source: Available at selected libraries

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I am not telling the story of my life just to write a book. I tell it because it seems my plain duty to do so. A marvelous escape from death and a miraculous return to health after an apparently fatal illness are enough to make a man ask himself: For what purpose was my life spared? That question I have asked myself, and this book is, in part, an answer. Until some one tells just such a story as mine and tells it sanely, needless abuse of helpless thousands will continue. Great advances toward the intelligent and humane treatment of the insane have no doubt been made -- advances so great that the majority of insane patients in this country are now treated with a consideration which amounts to kindness. But a helpless and irresponsible minority, numbering thousands, are still being subjected to abuse as brutal as any ever visited on insane persons during those centuries when the strong took pleasure in torturing the weak.


That insane persons are still abused is suspected by the public at large; but direct and convincing proof of that fact is seldom presented. I am sure that the proof I now offer will ring true, and will contribute to the correction of many mistaken ideas regarding the insane and their treatment, and regarding insanity itself. In the discussion of the crude methods of treatment which now obtain, all abuses which fell under my observation will of necessity be laid bare. A former victim of these methods, I feel at liberty to attack them; and the right to do so is doubly mine as I have a remedy to offer, or at least a campaign to propose. If intelligently carried on, it will, I feel confident, largely atone for one of the blackest pages in history. As the hostages which Civilization gives to Progress, the insane are entitled to the best of treatment. Certainly they are not deserving of the worst.


The subject which I treat is not alone humanitarian. Its economic importance can hardly be overestimated. The ravages of insanity cost the world millions of dollars and thousands of lives each year. There are not fewer than two hundred thousand insane persons in our asylums, hospitals, sanatoriums, and homes. There are at least one hundred and fifty thousand mental incompetents in Great Britain, and a like number in France, and in Germany. Every civilized country has its burdensome proportion. Nor are these afflicted ones the only sufferers. It is safe to assume that each insane person has at least five relatives and friends interested in his welfare. Granting this, there are a million people in this country -- one eightieth of the entire population -- directly or indirectly affected by this most dreaded disease. And any one of the remaining seventy-nine millions may sooner or later be forced by Fate to join this army of distress.


In spite of the gravity of these conditions comparatively little is being done to combat the present irresistible advance of insanity. No important phase of life is so generally misunderstood; and no equally important subject is so consistently and willingly ignored by all, except the few whose paid duty it is to care for the insane. The only real fight waged against this insidious disease is being carried on in a desultory manner by a few unselfish scientists who are devoting their time to investigation, in most instances without such support as they deserve.


There is every reason to believe that many forms of insanity will finally be rendered amenable to treatment. With small-pox conquered; diphtheria doomed; yellow fever confined within limits; and tuberculosis partially controlled and not infrequently cured, why should insanity remain forever on the list of incurable diseases? Though some forms of it may continue to baffle the alienist, recognized authorities predict that most forms will in time prove curable. But the day of its even partial defeat cannot come until systematic scientific research has first done its work -- a work of years. Why should such research, on a scale in keeping with the importance of the problem, be longer delayed? The fight may cost millions, but will not the eventual payment of an inevitable indemnity more than offset the cost? Even if there were no economic advantage to be gained, would not the dividend which will be added directly to the sum of human happiness be a sufficient reward? The people of this age can erect no more enduring monument to themselves than by doing that which will make it possible for posterity to regard the Twentieth Century as the century in which the cause and cure for most forms of mental diseases were discovered.


In presenting this book I have several definite purposes. First: I hope to rob insanity of many of its terrors -- at least those which do not rightly belong to it. Most children are afraid of the dark until they learn that its hidden monsters are imaginary. But this childish fear is a sublime mental process compared with the unreasoning dread of insanity that prevails in the minds of most adults throughout the civilized world. Under certain conditions an insane person is, without doubt, the unhappiest of men, but I shall prove that sometimes he is not less happy -- is indeed happier -- than a sane person under the most favorable conditions. To a startling degree the unhappiness of the insane is directly due to the perhaps unconscious lack of consideration with which they are treated. This is fortunate; for these external contributory causes can be eliminated; -- and no one thing will go so far toward eliminating them as the universal adoption and continued use of the humane and equally scientific principle of Non-Restraint in the treatment of insanity. As the reader will come to know: -- doing to the insane as the sane would be done by is the essence of Non-Restraint.

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