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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Through using our political influence, as individuals and as groups, we can bring about immediate changes in both these factors. Immediate changes cannot attain the ideal, but they can bring us much closer to it.


Certainly every state should make it possible for a person to be voluntarily admitted to a mental hospital for treatment -- that is, admitted on medical rather than on legal considerations. Even when it is necessary to commit a person involuntarily, competent medical authority should be relied upon, rather than the authority of untrained laymen. The barbarism of many of our commitment procedures must give way to more enlightened methods.


After commitment many patients still find themselves under the long arm of the law. They have every reason to think of themselves as criminals. They are often confined in a jail until there is an opening in the hospital; they are often transported to the hospital by a policeman, sometimes in handcuffs. Once inside the hospital, they too often find that the law which was so concerned about getting them into the hospital is little concerned about what happens to them while they are there. They find their civil rights restricted, their mail censored, their citizenship suspended, their freedom gone.


Then, at last, when they come to seek release from the hospital after they have recovered, they find that legal restrictions make it impossible for them to be discharged except in the custody of what amounts to a "parole" officer.


In short, the traditional legal attitude surrounds the mental hospital with forbidding, restrictive walls which make it hard to get in, hard to get out, and hard to live decently on the inside. But many of the abuses are the result of poorly framed laws, and, in this country, laws can be changed. In fact, laws will be changed if informed citizens use their political influence effectively. The traditional legal attitude toward insanity can be legislated out of existence. If we want to do something to improve the conditions reported earlier in this book, we can begin now to use our political influence toward this end.


At the game time, we need to use our political influence to see that facilities for care of the mentally ill are brought up to standard. We have already noted that ninety-seven percent of our mental patients are in hospitals owned and operated by city, county, state or federal governments -- which means they are tax-supported and voter-administered, in the last analysis. They are truly our institutions! We are allowing deplorable conditions to exist because we fail to use our influence. Responsibility for the incidents reported in the earlier chapters of this book rests on our shoulders.


A false economy has dominated mental hospital administration for hundreds of years. Cheap buildings, poor food, lack of medical care, inadequate and incompetent employees have been sanctioned so long as expenses were kept low. One state pays its hospital attendants $40 per month and pays its prison guards $125 per month. As a result of such policies, the hospital population has continued to grow, and thousands of potential "cures" have been overlooked.


A state which is interested in true economy ought to invest every possible cent in curative and preventive treatments for mental illness. It ought to provide adequate buildings and equipment for its mental patients; it ought to pay for and secure competent personnel to care for its patients; it ought to supply the best and most effective methods of treatment. It ought to have a non-political board of responsible citizens to make continuous evaluation of its mental hospitals; it ought to have out-patient clinics and follow-up care for convalescents; it ought to support psychiatric wards in general hospitals all over the state; it ought to use guidance clinics, the school system, the church and all other community agencies to promote mental health.


Such a program will cost money now. It will take time and effort to put it into effect. But in the long run it will save money, because it will reduce the number of patients needing care and reduce the length of time the average patient remains in the hospital. It will make productive citizens out of people who will be wards of the state for life under the current false economy. Our influence can make the difference -- if we make it politically effective.


There are other ways in which we can use our influence to improve conditions for mental patients. We can ask the newspapers, the radio and the screen to provide more accurate and informative treatment of mental patients and the problems of mental illness. We can protest scare headlines which proclaim "Sex Maniac Escapes State Hospital" whenever a harmless inmate wanders away. We can suggest sound, logical treatment of those rarer cases when potentially dangerous patients do escape. We can express our opinions to all the media of public information whenever they do injustice to the cause of mental health or to those who are laboring in the service of mental patients.

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