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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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Page 40:


Can It Be Just the War?


There is one other way in which we might discredit the startling revelations of the preceding chapters. Perhaps we can blame conditions on the war. Maybe they are just signs of the times, or temporary situations which will soon right themselves.


A state administrator of welfare in an eastern state saw published pictures and reports of the poor conditions existing in the mental hospitals under her jurisdiction. She immediately wrote to the governor, sending copies of her letter to the papers, blaming the conditions on the war-time controls of the federal government. The papers found evidence in their files, and obtained statements from hospital superintendents, which proved that conditions had been just as bad before the war. It even was estimated that a slight improvement had been made during the war!


We may as well face the fact that this is one social disgrace we cannot lay at the doorstep of the war. Shortages and limitations have been increased by the war, but the conditions of which we have been speaking existed before the war and are now existing unabated after the war. In fact, there is considerable evidence to indicate that present conditions have reached a lower ebb than ever existed during the war.


In 1938, Inis Ward Jones wrote a factual article on "Man's Last Specter -- The Challenge of Mental Disease," for the December issue of Scribner's Magazine. Basing her statement on a survey made by the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, she said:


"This crowding exists in 70 per cent of our hospitals, a situation almost medieval in its horror and stupidity . . . Imagine one physician having to try to treat 400 mental cases! The minimum standard for nurses and attendants is one to 8 patients. This sometimes runs as low as one to 20. The rate for graduate nurses runs as low as one to 247 patients. And some hospitals actually have no graduate nurses! But how could it be otherwise when some hospitals receive only 20 to 40 cents a day per patient? The average for all is now 74 cents a day per patient -- for food, clothing, service, and medical care. This, while jailers get $1 a day for feeding prisoners . . .


"Then the need for equipment. Some of the complaints are insufficient surgical, X-ray, and hydro-therapeutic facilities, inability to make proper laboratory tests, an actual shortage of medicines, no new medical text-books or magazines, and want of materials for occupational therapy. . . . To make matters worse -- often desperate -- there is political interference. . . . There are still too many hospitals in which food leaves much to be desired, this on three counts: lack of special diets when they are imperative for health; want of balance; and monotony."


In 1941, Edith M. Stem used another National Committee for Mental Hygiene survey, and wrote an article for the August Survey Graphic on "Our Ailing Mental Hospitals." She says many of the same things, and adds:


"Hours in many state hospitals are from 12 to 16 a day, with no restful place to fall asleep afterwards. In one hospital, attendants' quarters are on the disturbed ward . . . The National Committee for Mental Hygiene's surveys of state hospitals are dotted with notations like 'falling plaster,' 'toilet leaking through the ceiling from the floor above,' 'fire hazards,' and 'floors so rotten they are dangerous.' . . . Patients in one hospital never enjoy a hot meal because food -- adequate enough in quality and quantity, the National Committee reports -- is put on the table twenty minutes before the dining room is opened. ... In too many states, still, the mentally ill are treated not like sick people but like criminals. They are tried by jury -- "just as if we called in the neighbors to diagnose meningitis," a young psychiatrist told me bitterly -- thrown into jail and taken, perhaps manacled, to the hospital by a sheriff."


Sounds familiar, doesn't it? These are exactly the conditions portrayed in the sketches which make up the earlier chapters of this book. They existed in 1935, 1941 and 1943, and they exist in 1947. We are forced to go along with the official statement of a professionally competent person who says:


"The nursing committee of the American Psychiatric Association believes that there may be danger in assuming that the war has been responsible for the poor conditions permeating psychiatric hospitals throughout the country. To adopt this thinking without careful reasoning, complacently expecting all to be well when the emergency passes, is but to delude ourselves and postpone the task which confronts us now and which it is our duty to attack with critical judgment and forceful determination." (Laura Fitzsimmons, R.N., Nursing Consultant of the American Psychiatric Association.)


Much as we would like to disbelieve, discredit or excuse the facts, we cannot do it. We are forced to believe that the conditions depicted in the earlier sketches are true, that they are generally true, and that they have been true for a long time. But we still want to escape, to avoid the impact of truth, to excuse ourselves from the arena of action.

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