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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Perhaps you can remember only a few of the individual characters who have come and gone in these scenes. But can you forget the Inadequacy? The Incompetence? The Neglect? The Abuse? Can you now begin to know something of the atmosphere in which six hundred thousand of our fellow citizens are living at this moment? Have you now at least a vague intimation of the meaning of life in a mental hospital? The kind of life which one out of every twenty of us may expect to lead, sometime before we die? A life that is out of sight, out of mind?


Very probably you have come to understand that conditions within our mental hospitals are far worse than they ought to be, or need to be. With inadequate buildings, poorly planned and poorly equipped, mental patients are crowded together in such a way that adequate treatment and attention are impossible. There are far too few doctors, nurses and attendants to give needed care, and many of those few are incompetent or discouraged. Treatments that might cure sick minds are not used as often as they should be, and sick bodies, too, are often seriously neglected. Not even a minimum of food, clothing, shelter and cleanliness is always available to mental patients. And these unfortunate, pitiful human beings are still being locked up, beaten, punished, annoyed, offended -- even killed -- for no greater crime than simply becoming sick and showing the expected symptoms of their sickness.


If you have read the preceding chapters with alertness and sensitivity, you may have sensed yet another truth about mental hospitals -- that there are many fine people working in them, doing excellent work against impossible odds. The picture is not all dark. These shafts of light are there, and where they are, they illuminate the darkness. The contrast makes us more aware of the darkness and more certain that the light is both possible and desirable.


The final impact is clear -- inadequacy, incompetence, neglect and abuse are far too prevalent. Conditions in mental hospitals are insufferable; they can not be endured.


Confronted with the unrelenting impact of this certainty, many of us have a tendency to seek some escape. We want to explain the facts away, to justify them, to forget them, to avoid them. We do not want to face them.


Such a reaction is to be expected. Whenever modern man is confronted with undeniable evidence of man's inhumanity to man, he seeks to dodge the implications, to explain the evidence away. He is like a bird confined in a cage for the first time. Goaded by his condition, which he would escape, he flutters wildly, blindly, to find a way out.


Many of us, having read these incidents, will seek a means of escape, some way of assuring ourselves that "everything is all right." One of the handiest, most appealing escapes we try is denial. We exclaim, "It can't be true!"


Is It True?


A United States congressman from a midwestem state was presented with a few facts and pictures showing conditions in mental hospitals. After considering the materials for a moment he dropped them on his desk and said, "It isn't true. It just isn't true!" His informant replied, "It's true, all right, sir. For two years I have worked in these conditions, and I know whereof I speak." The congressman shook his head. "No," he said, "not in the United States. It just isn't true!"


Certainly every one of us wishes that the incidents reported earlier in these pages were not true. But wishing will not make it so. The fact is that they are true, in every particular. It was stated earlier, but will bear repitition here: Every person depicted is a real person; every place described is a real place; every event recorded actually occurred -- and they all took place in mental hospitals in the United States within the last five years, 1942-46.


Names of persons and places, as well as certain identifying details, have been altered for purposes of publication, just as faces of patients have been blacked out in the photographs; but all incidents are based on first-hand, "on-the-spot" reports. The originals of these reports, as well as thousands of others, are contained in an extensive collection of such materials in the possession of the National Mental Health Foundation. Each report contains all the pertinent details, is carefully documented, and is signed by the person or persons who observed the incident and contributed it to the collection.


Most of these reports have been contributed by three thousand conscientious objectors who were assigned to work in mental hospitals in lieu of military service during World War II. Coming from every region of the country and from almost every walk of life, these men worked in forty-six of the nation's three hundred and fifty public mental hospitals. They found conditions such that they were impelled to do something about them, even though they had nothing to gain personally, and much to lose, by their efforts. The National Mental Health Foundation itself is the result of their efforts and idealism. It has already become a powerful factor in informing an awakening public, not only about the plight of the mentally ill, but also about the vast problems of our national and individual mental health.

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