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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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So What? Does It Matter?


The chairman of a prominent women's club had listened to a presentation of conditions in mental hospitals. When it was finished, she said: "Well, I suppose it really doesn't matter. After all, the patients are crazy, aren't they? They don't know what's happening to them, do they?" The speaker, who had spent many years caring for mental patients, smiled a bit grimly. "But they do know what's happening to them," he said. "They know only too well. They're not unlike you who are in this room. They feel and think, are hurt sometimes and pleased sometimes, just as deeply as any of you -- often more deeply. It really matters to them."


There are two valuable lessons in that simple reply which we all ought to take to heart. First, mental patients -- so-called "crazy" people -- are extremely sensitive. No one can work with them for any length of time and fail to become convinced that this is so. Regardless of their present condition, regardless of their immediate response, mental patients very often know exactly what is happening to them.


A nurse took care of a woman who was in a complete stupor, had not moved for weeks, and had to be fed through a tube. Many months later the woman was well and happy, ready to go home. She came to the nurse and said, "I want to thank you for covering up my naked body that night long ago. I was so ashamed. And you were the only one who cared about me!"


A well-built man finally snapped out of the childish, baby-state in which he had lived for several months. He had babbled incessantly, and had been completely out of reach of doctors and attendants. Now he was well again. On the ward he saw two of the attendants who had cared for him. "You're the man who fed me so patiently," he said to one. To the other, he said, "And you're the tough guy who beat me up every time you gave me a bath."


Textbooks of psychiatry have taught for years that many mental patients are sensitive and observant of what is going on around them. They do know what is happening to them.


The second valuable lesson we can learn from the speaker's remarks is that we -- the so-called "normal" people -- differ from the mental patient in degree, but not in kind. We all share their characteristics to some extent. We are like the old Quaker who had been crossed by the members of his Meeting. He said to his wife: "Everyone in the world seems queer except thee and me, and sometimes, even thee seems a little queer." He would have uttered a profound truth if he had included himself among those who are a little queer.


Since mental patients differ from the rest of us only in degree, and since they often know what is happening to them, and are sensitive to their environment, we must assume that it is as important for them to have good treatment and surroundings as it is for ourselves. We cannot escape the impact of the facts by supposing that it does not matter that mental hospitals are shamefully conducted. It does matter.


Why Bother? Isn't It a Hopeless Cause?


At the end of a discussion of the mentally ill in a church young people's meeting, a young man stood up. "The conditions for these mental patients are bad, all right," he admitted, "but I think we should concern ourselves with problems we can do something about. Once insane, always insane, they say. So why get so excited about it?" A young girl jumped to her feet: "That's not true! My Aunt Jane, who has taught Sunday School to nearly everyone in this room, was in a mental hospital for four and a half years. Now we all think she is the finest person in the church."


The girl was right. There are hundreds of thousands of well-balanced, healthy people living worthwhile lives in this country today who have been mentally ill. Not a few of them are living more useful, efficient lives now than they lived before their illness -- they have come out of the hospital with a degree of understanding and assurance they previously lacked.


Fifty years ago medical science knew very little about how to cure a sick mind. A few cases got well, many remained unchanged, and most gradually grew sicker. Since then psychiatry has made amazing strides.


Fever treatment, controlled "shock" therapy, psychoanalysis, brain surgery, drug therapy, directed occupational and activity therapies -- all these have been highly developed and have proven themselves to be aids in the "cure" of previously "incurable" cases. Many other methods of treatment are being used today with increasing success -- vitamin treatment, group re-education, drug-induced semi-consciousness and low-temperature sleep, among them.


If we would put everything we know about treating mental illness into general practice today, we could restore health to at least half of the hundred and twenty-five thousand patients who enter mental hospitals for the first time each year.


Unfortunately we do not practice generally what we know. This fact is clearly evidenced in the contrast between the authoritative quotations and the actual incidents presented in the earlier chapters. Instead of providing the care and treatment which would return these sick people to a useful, productive life, we allow conditions to exist which make them wards of the state for life.

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