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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
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You and I can't conduct, ourselves, the research and experimentation needed to develop new and more effective cures for mental illness. We can't train the needed psychiatrists and other personnel. We can't provide rehabilitation facilities, out-patient clinics, and recreational activities for all the patients who need them. We can't possibly educate enough people to change the false notions of the entire nation. These tasks are too large for individual or small-group effort. A nationwide effort is needed. That takes money, so --


Let's Give More


Many authorities have summed up all the reasons why care for mental patients is so inadequate, in just one word -- poverty. Certainly a mere pittance is spent on research, education and prevention of mental illness as compared with the amounts spent on tuberculosis or infantile paralysis, for example. One recent study has presented figures to show that the general public contributes $94 per victim per year to voluntary agencies for infantile paralysis and $22 per victim per year for tuberculosis. A very generous estimate would indicate that less than 1/2 cent per victim per year is contributed for mental illness.


Confronted with these facts, we are likely to exclaim with Brigadier General William C. Menninger, former chief of psychiatric services in the Army Medical Corps: "Why is it that we become so responsive to a cause like poliomyelitis and ignore so completely a problem, one thousand times greater!" Why, indeed? Why do we give one fiftieth as much to fulfill a need a thousand times greater?


Now is no time for idle speculation about "why." Now is the time to establish a National Mental Health Fund appeal which will answer the need for giving more. Such a nationwide appeal should collect money to be used for research, experimentation, training of personnel, improvement of facilities and public education -- in short, for a broadside attack on every phase of the mental health problem. It should be collected cooperatively and distributed among those mental health groups most competent to perform services in various fields. Every existing organization which is performing a useful function ought to be strengthened through the fund, and many new organizations, particularly at the local level, ought to be established.


Nothing short of a voluntary national fund can do the job. The federal government entered the field with a $10,000,000 neuro-psychiatric bill in 1946. This bill, which had almost universal support, is a great aid in solving the problem, but it will fulfill only a fraction of the need. Even if the government doubles or triples this proposed $10,000,000 appropriation, there will still be a need for a voluntary fund. Until such a fund is established, we all can give more to local and national groups so that they can grow strong enough to initiate and support a national financial appeal.


The National Mental Health Foundation, the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, thirty-three voluntary state organizations for mental hygiene, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Association of Psychiatric Social Workers and other similar mental health organizations are bearing major responsibility for present mental health work. On meager budgets and using much volunteer or underpaid assistance, these groups have been working efficiently and effectively to bring the problems of the mentally ill to the public. Their work must be supported abundantly now in order to lay the groundwork for the major tasks which lie ahead.


To see that current work is carried on successfully and that foundations for future developments are laid properly, we must give more now. We must also be ready to support a National Mental Health Fund in the near future.


But learning more, serving more and giving more do not exhaust the things which aroused and informed citizens need to do to improve conditions for the mentally ill. Legislators, administrators, judges; newspaper editors, moviemakers, authors; hospital board members, local politicians and just common citizens -- all of these have so much to do with conditions in mental hospitals that we can not be content unless we are persuading all of these people to an increased concern and deeper appreciation of the mentally ill. Therefore --


Let's Influence More


Because treatment of the mentally ill is inextricably tied up with law and legislative procedure, improvements must often come through revision of legal measures. Such revision requires political influence. Perhaps it would be ideal if there were no more legal restrictions on the treatment of mental disease than there are on the treatment of physical disease. Then persons who needed treatment could be sent to the hospital by their own doctor, attended by him there, and released solely on the basis of health. This ideal is likely to be a long time in coming because of two major factors: (1) The traditional legal attitude toward insanity, which regards it more as a legal matter than as a medical matter, and which insists on complicated commitment procedures not unlike those used in sending criminals to jail; and (2) the high cost and long duration of mental care, which for many centuries has made it a problem for governmental rather than for private initiative.

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