Rejection of the Mentally Ill
THE WAY society handles its mentally ill has been the subject of scandalized public attack many times. Humane, healing care for the mentally ill, historically well tested, and further clarified in the last decade, remains the great unfinished business of the mental health movement. We can scarcely hope to convince the public of how much the sciences of behavior can help in achieving human understanding and providing more satisfying human relations in general if we cannot solve this old, notorious problem of human relations. A large proportion of mental patients at present, as in the past, are not treated in accordance with democratic, humanitarian, scientific, and therapeutic principles. We have substantially failed the majority of them on all counts. It is our purpose in this chapter to explore the various dimensions, and some of the consequences, of our attitudes toward these patients.
The psychiatric, journalistic, and sociological literature on the status of our mental hospitals is monumental; the Joint Commission has increased this literature. In the last fifteen years, millions of words have been spoken and written about mental illness as a major national health problem. Many of them have been well spoken and well written. Most seem predicated on the assumption that if the plight—the shameful, dehumanized condition—of mentally sick people who populate the back wards of State hospitals were sufficiently well exposed, the public would rise in moral indignation, and demand and enact reforms in which, at long last, we as a civilized people could take full pride. The assumption is ordinarily a valid