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A reminder that history repeats itself if let it

eBook Link (free to download and read)

This eBook titled “A Plea for the Insane in the Prisons and Poor-houses of Pennsylvania” By Pennsylvania. State Board of Public Welfare, was published in 1873 and has documents  about the arguments being made at that time to move people with mental illnesses out of prisons and poor houses and into state hospitals.  I haven’t finished reading it yet, but what I have read could easily be seen in today’s media as we debate over how people with mental illnesses should be treated.  At the time this book was written, state hospitals were the solution that society had come up with, but over time society decided that state hospitals were not the answer, but community based treatment was the answer.  So community based became the target treatment option, but society opted not to properly fund it or expand it so that the community based services could meet the demand.  So now society is sitting back scratching their heads completely baffled that people with mental illnesses would be ending up warehoused in jails and prisons.  There is now a trend that seems to show to me that the pendulum is swinging back in the direction of state hospitals as the answer to the problem.   I have to ask why we as a society are repeatedly making the same decisions and consistently expecting a different outcome?  I feel that state hospitals and prisons are opposite extremes when it comes to solutions, and that while both serve a purpose, neither is an adequate solution.  The bills I’m seeing proposed seem to focus on the needs and desires of the families of the mentally ill and neglect to acknowledge that the person with the illness is the one who is getting bounced around by society’s whims.  Yes, families are affected, but I also know that forced treatment is a short-term solution to a crisis …. it is NOT a long-term solution.  Assisted Outpatient Treatment is a politically correct way of candy coating forced or coerced treatment.  I strongly suggest that people look over the history of the decisions made by society before jumping on board with any of the bills being proposed.  History can teach us valuable lessons if we listen.

This book is also available in printed paperback  from Amazon by clicking this link “A Plea for the Insane in the Prisons and Poor-Houses”  (costs about $16 for the printed version at

Location map of Pennsylvania, USA

Location map of Pennsylvania, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

the time of this post)

Video: “Mental Health 50th Anniversary Timeline, Lancaster, PA”

Video Link

This YouTube video was uploaded by Philhavenhope on November 13, 2013 and while its focus is on Lancaster County, PA, it does include historical moments that had an impact nationwide in the mental health community.

“JFK Gives Mental Care Prescription”

Article Link

This February 5, 1963 article found in The Pittsburgh Press, vol. 79 number 323 on page 11, outlines JFK’s plans to reduce the cost of caring for folks with mental illnesses and mental retardation (currently known as intellectually disabled) by increasing spending on community based services.  Points made in the article include that it would cost less to treat someone in the community then it would to have them treated as an inpatient.

I post this particular article to show that the current battle being waged over human services funding is not a new one, but a rather old one.  It is a battle that while the names have changed, the arguments seem to have remained very much the same.  On one side there are those who feel that it is a waste of money to help those with mental health or intellectual disabilities, while at the same time there are those who are just as adamant that it is the right thing to do and a worthy cause to help folks with these sorts of diagnosis.

Is it possible that maybe we are running on a mouse wheel trying to come up with new answers to an old problem?  if so, should we maybe consider getting off the mouse wheel and look to see what else is out there that might work and be beneficial to both sides of the battle line.  The people getting hurt by the battle are those being fought over.  We get glimmers of hope from one side that get ripped away by the other side.

I’m seeing an overall improvment in the quality of the care I receive, but I also know that there are many who are falling through the cracks, because of funding cuts to community based services when people fall through these cracks, thats when the media pays attention and our society goes into a state of shock and disbelief while at the same time denying any responsibility for what happened.  I saw an article the other day that indicated the person who went on a shooting spree at Western Psych in Pittsburgh, PA had actually contacted Western Psych approximately 40 times for mental health reasons prior to the incident.  If this is true then that tells me that it isn’t just the person who committed the crime that is at fault, but I have to suggest that the system failed this person not neccesarily because Western Psych messed up, but because as a society we have underfunded human services programs to the point where waiting lists are the norm and people who are in critical need of help end up waiting for months to get the hep they need.  Most cases the person doesn’t go on a shooting spree, but the effects are still costly.  Someone who is depressed for example is at a high risk of comitting suicide, which if they succeed, will impact the person and everyone they know, and also create a ripple effect that effects others the person may not have known, but still there is an impact.  There is the lose of the individual, then the survivors may end up losing wages as well, because they had to take time off for funeral and grieving.  Because these people took time off, their employer may have lost business because the business may not have been able to run as efficiently during that time.  The ripples continue on and on.

While not every person with a mental illness is able to work a traditional 9 to 5 job, there are ways that they are able to give back to their community.  In my case, I write this blog, research the history of Warren State Hospital, I serve as secretary on a Consumer Advisory Board for my local mental health service provider, I occasionally write and publish articles.  Am I lazy?  Some may say I am, but if they got to know me, they would realize that even though I may not be holding down a jb, I am working towards the goal of being able to work.  I have an Anxiety disorder that makes it very challenging to do things like buy food without panicking.   A lot of what I do is in a very small fairly controlled realm and for me if I stay in that realm I function fairly well, but when I try, and I often do try, to step beyond my realm I start to have problems.  I have been expanding my world a little and in the past year have gone from feeling like I couldn’t leave my home without a purpose (like buying food) to where I am able to go for walks around my neighborhood and not feel like I have to have a purpose for leaving my home.  I still struggle a lot, new things scare me, even things that are good cause me to have problems.  I love computers, so I’m finding ways to use technology to help me overcome my anxiety.  Metaldetecting is one example of something I’ve done to help myself work on expanding my world a little.  I’m currently looking at trying geocaching while these are more like hobbies, to me, they are stepping stones, things I can do that allow me to use technology to help me get out of my home and into the world.  They also offer something I can use as a sort of “prop” to help me talk to others a little easier, which is something that I generally can’t do unless someone approaches me and initiates the conversation.  Technology that I’m using is such that I would not be allowed to use it if I were in a mental health facility as an inpatient, I would have to try to use whatever was available to me which may not be much in the way of things that are interesting to me, and help me to engage in conversation with others.  Being in the community and being able to try non-traditional methods of helping myself with the encouragement of the professionals that have been helping me,  has enabled my progress to keep moving forward, though like anyone I have good days and bad days, and the bad days make progress come to a screeching halt sometimes, but with the community supports I have in place, I am able to serve on a board, which is something that if you had suggested I try back when I was in my early 30’s I would have had a complete meltdown over the mere thought of trying something that important.

In closing I want to thank those who have been supportive of me and helped me face my ongoing challenges, but at the same time I hope that those who feel that fundiung the programs I utilize aren’t worthwhile, I hope that maybe something I shared here will help increase an understanding of what has been helpful to me and take away the idea that it costs less for me to be in the community with my support system then it does for me to be in a facility as an inpatient.

JFK was just one of many who have seen that it was more cost effective for folks to be treated in the community, maybe it’s time for others to wake up and see that there might be some truth to it and that cutting funding to these programs is detrimental to not only my success but also the success of many others.

“Joseph Rogers Mental Health Recovery Movement History “

Video Link

This video uploaded July 12, 2011 to YouTube by jrogers08034 offers an overview of the history of the Consumer Movement.

“The Politics of Memory”

Insulin shock therapy is given in Lapinlahti H...

Image via Wikipedia

The links in this post are to a 5 part series of videos done by Pat Deegan discussing the history of the treatment of folks with mental illnesses and why it is important that we know our history as people with mental health diagnosis.

A walk down history lane

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Root_(Pennsylvania)

The above link,  is to a page in Wikipedia about a man named Joe Root who spent some time living off the land in Erie, PA on Presque Isle.  By now you may be wondering why I’m including this here since it seems like it wouldn’t apply to the general topic of this blog.  Well, it kind of does apply.  Joe Root, from what little I’ve read about him, apparently was an entertainer, and kids loved his ventrilloqy.  Aside from entertaining children, it seems that Joe Root was a bit of a dreamer and came up with ideas like starting a feather factory among other ideas that others would listen to but seemed to find them o be more amusing then anything.  I don’t know what kind of violence occurred, but some say that Joe Root was actually the victim of it some speculate it was to prevent him from collecting squater’s rights on Presque Isle.  The details of the incident that I’ve found have been more like implied statements then anything, but they do indicate that because of this vaguely described violance, Joe Root was sent to Warren State Hospital in Warren, PA.  He spent the rest of his life there from the sounds of things but was said to have repeatedly asked to return to his home on Presque Isle.

So when did this occurr?  well based on Wikipedia, He lived on Presque Isle in the early 1900’s and was comitted to Warren State Hospital then known as “The State Hospital for the Insane at Warren, PA”  the name was later changed to Warren Stae Hospital sometime around 1920 if memory serves me right.  Anyway, Joe Root was committed there and died in 1912.

I guess my reason for sharingthis, is to give folks an idea of how in many ways there has been some if not a lot of progress in how folks with mental illnesses are treated today compared to then in the early days of Warren State.  at that time people could be sent to a state hospital for just about any reason that anyone else thought made the person being comitted seem to not conform to society and while Joe Root seems like the kind of guy we might refer to as eccentric today, at the time, something occurred and someone didn’t agree with what happened probably claimed he was insane (using terminology for the time period) and under the authority of one person like a doctor, law enforcement or anyone that had any kind of authority he was sent to Warren State where I’m guessing he died since he died in 1912 just 2 years after he arrived at Warren State.  Today it takes a team of people to have someone admitted to a state hospital, and in the current goal is to have the person ready for discharge in roughly 6 months to a year.  Today, Joe Root would have needed to have been evaluated by a physician, and met certain criteria before he could have been admitted to Warren State.   There is a lot more to the process, but there are more steps and criteria that need to be taken and met then there once was.

For folks who are in the mental health system receiving treatment, yes, there are many changes occurring and  yes at this pointstate hospitals still exist, but to be sent to one isn’t as easy as it once was, and length of stay is much shorter on average then it was at the time that Joe Root was comitted.

I will close by saying that yes, treatment is better for folks with mental illnesses then it once was, but at the same time as with anything, I feel there is always room for improvement.

Disclaimer:  While I am currently researching the History of Warren State Hospital, I have many questions left unanswered and Joe Root is just one piece of the puzzle.  I do not intend this blog entry to be a precise or complete history, but rather a summary of things I’ve been reading about and some of my own thoughts based on experiences I have had in my own life.  In short this is an opinion post based on many pieces of information.  The information about Joe Root mostly came from Wikipedia, but some of what I said in regards to what the process of him ending up at Warren state is purely speculation based on my limited knowledge of how the system functioned at that time.  I welcome any information anyone wants to send my way, and to be honest am really kind of intrigued with Joe Root’s story so he is someone I’m looking further into. 

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