Library Collections: Document: Full Text

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

Creator: Frank L. Wright, Jr. (author)
Date: 1947
Publisher: National Mental Health Foundation, Inc.
Source: Available at selected libraries
Figures From This Artifact: Figure 2  Figure 3  Figure 4  Figure 5  Figure 6  Figure 7  Figure 8  Figure 9  Figure 10  Figure 11  Figure 12  Figure 13  Figure 14  Figure 15  Figure 16  Figure 17

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In the following chapters you will be given a glimpse of mental patients and the conditions in which they live. The picture will not be beautiful, but it will be interesting and accurate. You will be taken behind the impressive facades of imposing institutions, and there you will meet doctors, nurses, attendants and patients face to face. After reading these pages, the forgotten thousands in our mental hospitals will no longer be "out of sight." You will have seen them. Neither will they be "out of mind." You will have known them and known their problems.


A gate which has long been closed to you and to most ordinary citizens swings open beyond this page.


It's People That Count


"No building ever cured a patient. Neither medicine, psychiatry, hydrotherapy, occupational therapy, dietetics, drugs, electricity, music, dramatics, surgery, psychoanalysis, religion nor psychiatric social work ever cured a patient. Recoveries occur only when such techniques are applied directly and continuously to individual patients by trained people. People, not things or theories, cure patients."


Commissioner of Mental Hygiene,
State of Maryland.




"To attendants: You perhaps more than anyone else, can help patients get well. You are with them constantly -- days to the doctors' hours. The little things you do, week by week, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, can make or break them. Of all the members of the hospital staff, you are closest to the patients. You can support the work of doctors and nurses, or cancel it. Yours is the important, cornerstone job in the hospital."


In The Attendant's Guide
Published by The Commonwealth Fund.


Picture, if you can, a ward where two hundred and forty mental patients are locked in one room from morning until night. No patient is ever permitted to leave the ward unless accompanied by an attendant.


Most of these patients are forty-five years old or more. They're vegetative. They eat, they sleep, they void. Then they eat, sleep and void all over again. The only variation in this program is twice a week when someone shaves them and bathes them. Many of them can't dress themselves or help keep themselves decently covered. They never stand up when they can sit down. They never sit down when they can lie down. Most of them look as it they wouldn't even lie down if they could find a less demanding way of existing.


Now, into this atmosphere, inject a boy in his early twenties. He gets no greeting, no introduction, no explanation. The door is opened and he is pushed into the ward. He finds a seat or stands up in a comer. He looks around him and sees hopeless despondency. His ears are assaulted by the vocal discord of two hundred disordered minds. His nose -- well, you can't picture that.


You're the attendant on the ward. It's your duty to help this beardless boy who is gazing off into space. But you know nothing about him -- not even his name.


He has been pushed into the ward in much the same manner as a stray steer would be pushed into a cattle pen on a railroad siding. The expression on his face seems to say, "Where am I, and where do I go from here?"


"Hello, fellow."


No response.


"Where do you hail from?"




"Where is your home town?"




"No foolin'? That's only about half a mile from where I live. Whereabouts in Bellville?"


"Spruce Street."


"That's between the river and the furniture factory."


"That's right."


And so, stealing time from the other two hundred and forty patients, you establish contact with the boy. You find out how old he is, how long he has been in the hospital, how many brothers and sisters he has, whether he is married, has any children, or lives at home with his father and mother. This is not accomplished in one sitting, but in odd moments stolen from the other routine duties attendants have to perform -- chiefly locking and unlocking doors.


Finally you learn his name is Tony, and you say, "Tony, I guess you'll be glad to get out of here, won't you?" to which he replies, "Gosh, mister, you can say that again! I thought I was comin' here to get a rest and quiet my nerves. Why, this place would drive a guy nuts!"


You know this is true, for there are times when it almost drives you nuts. But you can't admit this -- not to this boy. And you know there is a definite routine through which this boy must go before he can hope even to go home on a trial visit. So you suggest to him that there is a method by which he can get transferred from this ward almost immediately -- a way to get out in God's open space where he can get relief from the clatter and bang of the overcrowded ward.


You tell him that in the morning, when the ward doctor makes his rounds, he should say, "Doctor, may I speak to you for a moment?" And when the doctor stops, he should say to him, "Please, sir, can I get work on an outside detail?" You explain to the boy that this will, in all probability, get him a job on an outside detail: trimming hedges, cutting grass, or something along that order, where he won't be required to do any great amount of arduous labor, but where he will be expected to respect the discipline of the attendant in charge of the detail.

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