Mental Healthcare in America

Topics: Mental health, Mental disorder, Psychiatry Pages: 8 (2501 words) Published: February 14, 2010
Mental Health Care and the American Social System

American history is littered with tails of reform and revolution. Earlier on in America’s young life, revolution included war, struggle for basic human rights and dignity as well as radical tactics taken by the public. As time went on Americans learned that revolution and reform could occur through the government systems that our forefathers had put in place. The battle for human rights has all but ended but the way in which Americans wage war is a different story altogether. Now American’s fight for better public healthcare, equal rights for homosexual individuals and couples, and stricter standards for social welfare programs.

One of the societal problems that has overcome many obstacles since its entrance into the public eye is mental health care. The history of Mental Health care is both detailed and notoriously overlooked. Throughout this research paper the writer hopes to provide an accurate history of mental health care in America, make the reader aware of the flaws in the American mental health care system, and provide options to potentially find solutions.

Before the time of anti-depressants and therapists, there was little known about the mind and its effect on behavior and personality. Because little was known about the cause of behavioral problems, many cultures created explanations that suited their own purposes. As late as the seventeenth century, people suffering from mental illness were often thought of as possessed, evil, or lame. Because of the nature of mental illness and the inability to treat diseases on the mind, people who suffered from them were declared a burden on many societies and were pushed aside, banished, or even killed.

One of the first advocates of people with mental illness was a man named Benjamin Rush. He created the first American published textbook on psychiatry and made the public aware that diseases of the mind were real. Superstition was slowly being ousted from the list of reasons for abnormal behavior and America responded to the physiological evidence by creating hospitals dedicated to treating the mentally ill. Unfortunately, hospitals were difficult to fund. Even in 1843, there were only 24 hospitals in America equipped to care for the mentally ill.

While America struggled to create institutions that were capable of caring for the mentally ill, there was a darker war being waged involving psychological treatments for this forgotten and abused population. America as a whole continued to see the mentally ill population as a burden and treated them as if they were animals up until the mid 1900s. Tactics used in treatment often included involuntary restraint with the use of a “straight jacket,” involuntary lobotomies with little to no comfort care or pain management for the patient, involuntary experimental procedures, and various other forms of degradation as well as emotional and physical abuse.

Reform eventually came to the standards of mental health care in America, but not without the support of a few influential people. Dorothea Dix began her life in an unstable family. Her mother was physically ill much of the time and her father was an alcoholic. She was raised by her grandmother due to her parents’ incompetence and grew to love teaching. For her entire young adult life, Dorothea taught children and wrote educational books. Her passion for mental health advocacy came when she was 39 and decided to teach lessons to women inmates at a prison facility. In this prison, criminals, mentally retarded, drunkards, and the mentally ill were all kept in the same area, treated in the same fashion, and were forced to live in their own defecation and filth. After witnessing the reprehensible treatment that the women in that facility were experiencing, Ms. Dix decided to travel from state to state visiting various jailhouses, prisons, hospitals, institutions, and asylums. Dorothea...

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Mitchell, P.B. & Malhi, G.S. (2004). Bipolar disorders. International Journal of Psychiatry and Neurosciences, 6(6), Retrieved from
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Weaver, H.M. (1947). National advisory mental health council. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 105(1), Retrieved from
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