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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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The two attendants in my case deserved immediate discharge. They could not offer the excuse of self-defense, for they had to unlock the door to get within my reach. In my opinion the doctor was at fault both before and after. Sure my wounds should have had more weight with him than the palpable lies of those who inflicted them.


I soon found that usually a restless or troublesome patient placed in the violent ward is assaulted the very first day. This procedure seems to be a part of the established code of dishonor. The attendants imagine that the best way to gain control of a patient is to cow him from the first. In fact, these fellows -- nearly all of them ignorant and untrained will tell you that "violent cases" cannot be handled in any other way. And in so saying they are often sincere. I recall the advent of a new attendant, -- a young man studying to become a physician. At first he seemed inclined to treat patients kindly, but he soon fell into brutal ways. His change of heart was due partly to the brutalizing environment, but more directly to the attitude of the three hardened attendants who mistook his consideration for cowardice and taunted him for it. Just to prove his metal he began to assault patients, and one day knocked me down simply for refusing to stop my prattle at his command. I did not openly resent his action, for I knew that I should only be unmercifully beaten for my temerity. By this time I had learned the uselessness of physical resistance. For comfort I dwelt upon the thought that I should one day deal a death blow to the whole inhuman system which had dealt so many death blows to the helpless insane.


I found also that an unnecessary and continued lack of out-door exercise tends to multiply deeds of violence. The attendants are supposed to take the patients for a walk at least once a day, and twice, when the weather permits. Yet the patients in the violent ward (and it is they who most need the exercise) usually get out of doors only when the attendants see fit to take them. For weeks a ward-mate -- a man sane enough to enjoy freedom, had he had a home of his own -- kept a record of the number of our walks. It showed that we averaged not more than one or two a week for a period of two months. This too in the face of many pleasant days which made the close confinement doubly irksome. The attendants preferred to remain in the ward, playing cards, smoking, and telling their kind of stories. One other fact I observed; namely, that as exercise decreased the number of assaults invariably increased. The attendants need regular exercise quite as much as the patients and when they fail to employ their energy in this healthful way, they are likely to employ it at the expense of the bodily comfort of their helpless charges. It was only because of a lax system of supervision that they were able thus to shirk their duty. Daily reports as to the exercising of patients would correct this common evil.


If lack of exercise produced a need of discipline, on the other hand each disciplinary move served only to inflame us the more. Some wild animals can be clubbed into a semblance of obedience, yet it is a treacherous obedience at best, and justly so. And that is the only kind of obedience into which a man can be clubbed. To imagine otherwise of a human being, sane or insane, is the very essence of insanity itself. A temporary leisure may be won for the aggressor, but, in the long run, he will be put to greater inconvenience than he would be by a more humane method. It was repression and wilful frustration which kept me a maniac and made maniacs of others. Whenever I was released from lock and key and permitted to mingle with the so-called violent patients, I was surprised to find that comparatively few were by nature troublesome or noisy. So that I am convinced that hundreds of patients throughout the country are improperly confined in violent wards. This is a serious matter; for, it is relatively as unfair to confine the mildly insane among madmen as to immure the sane among the insane. A patient, calm in mind and passive in behavior three hundred and sixty days in the year, may, on one of the remaining days, commit some slight transgression, or, more likely, be goaded into one by an attendant -- or needlessly led into one by a tactless physician. At once he is banished to the violent ward, there to remain for weeks -- perhaps indefinitely. His indiscretion may consist merely in an unmannerly announcement to the doctor of how lightly the latter is regarded by the patient. Such estimates of a doctor's capacity, though insane, are frequently correct, and proportionately galling, and their truth, the subject of them invariably proves by condemning the guilty patient to a term of imprisonment in a ward of chaos. A thoroughly competent physician is seldom vilified; -- for, being competent, he is able to win the good-will of his wards, and, should he occasionally be consigned to oblivion by an excited patient, he disregards the matter, knowing full well that the mouth is but the escape-valve of an abnormally active mind.

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