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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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That the unwarranted commitment of a person to a hospital for the insane is a tragic miscarriage of justice, all will admit. It therefore follows that the holding of a patient for an unwarranted length of time after commitment is also an injustice -- likewise tragic. Yet many patients are deprived of their liberty longer than necessary. This fact, however, is seldom the fault of the doctors in charge of them, except, perhaps, in private, run-for-gain institutions. As a rule public hospital officials are more than willing to discharge any patient fit for freedom -- if for no other reason, to relieve the overcrowded condition which obtains in a majority of public institutions. It is the indifference -- or even hostility -- of a patient's relatives which most often forces an asylum management to hold him for weeks or months -- sometimes years -- after he has demonstrated his fitness for, at least, a large degree of freedom. Rather than force a patient out into a world which, at best, is cold, the doctors will detain him until he is truly able to shift for himself. Relatives, who are contributing to their own selfish comfort by leaving the care of their unfortunates to the State, should pause and try to view life from behind asylum bars.


So much for those luckless patients whose relatives or friends fail to do their whole duty by them. But what of those inmates -- and there are hundreds of them discharged each year in this country -- what of those who have no relatives or friends at all, either to help or to hinder them when their liberation is about to occur? In behalf of this class I wish to call attention to a work, only recently inaugurated in this country, though long since practiced abroad, which is deserving of support and of general adoption. I refer to the "After Care of the Insane." Thanks to the initiative of Miss Louisa Lee Schuyler of New York, the State Charities Aid Association of that city has brought to a working perfection several so-called "After Care Committees." These are composed of earnest men and women who lend assistance to needy and friendless patients about to re-enter the sane world. Four hospitals in New York State are now provided with the co-operation of such committees, and before a great while presumably every hospital for the insane in that State will be likewise provided. No institution of the character discussed should be without this provision, for it is just such outside assistance that is required, if all patients deserving of discharge are to secure their freedom the moment they are ready for it.


Realizing that my detailed account of abuses may disturb relatives and friends of the inmates of our hospitals for the insane, I feel it my duty to express again my belief that most insane persons are better off in an institution than out of one. Only a comparatively small, though undeterminable, proportion of the two hundred thousand inmates of our hospitals, asylums and sanatoriums are subjected to the worst of the abuses laid bare and discussed in this book. This is at least reassuring; for investigation and reform must soon remedy the evils complained of; and country-wide investigation, if it does nothing else, will protect insane patients against abuse as they never before have been protected. Then, before the wave of reform shall have lost its force, a National Society can take hold and help, or, if necessary, force all hospital managements to maintain the highest attainable standard. Abuse and injustice will then become as myths; -- and, at last, the insane will come into their own.






SUCH convictions as the foregoing -- or some of them, and the germs of the rest -- I carried with me into the world.


For the first month of regained freedom I remained at home. These weeks were interesting. Scarcely a day passed that I did not meet several former friends and acquaintances who greeted me as one risen from the dead. And well they might, for my three-year trip among the worlds -- rather than around the world -- was suggestive of complete separation from the every-day life of the multitude. One profound impression which I received at this time was of the uniform delicacy of feeling exhibited by my well-wishers. In no instance that I can recall was a direct reference made to the nature of my recent illness, until I had first made some remark which indicated that I was not averse to discussing it. There was an evident effort on the part of friends and acquaintances to avoid a subject which they naturally supposed I wished to forget. Knowing that their studied avoidance of a delicate subject was inspired by a thoughtful consideration, rather than a lack of interest, I invariably forced the conversation along a line calculated to satisfy a suppressed but perfectly proper curiosity which I seldom failed to detect. My decision to stand on my past and look the future in the face has, I believe, contributed much to my own happiness, and, more than anything else, enabled my friends to view my past as I myself do. By frankly referring to my experiences I put my friends and acquaintances at ease, and at a stroke rid them of that constraint which one must feel in the presence of a person constantly in danger of being hurt by a chance reference to an unhappy experience.

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