Psychiatric Liberation/History of Psychiatric Institutionalization


Psychiatric Hospitalization has been around for a long time. The first psychiatric hospitals and insane asylums were built in the medieval Islamic world as early as the 8th century. Muslim physicians built the first ones in Baghdad from 705, followed by Fes in the early 8th century, and Cairo in 800. Other famous psychiatric hospitals were built in Damascus and Aleppo in 1270. Bethlem Royal Hospital (Bedlam) was the first known psychiatric hospital in Europe, founded in London in 1247 and by 1403, had begun accepting social outcasts, the "crazy people", "lunatics" and those who just couldn't stay hidden in society anymore. It soon became infamous for its cruel treatment of the insane, and in the 18th century would have outsiders pay a penny to come and watch their patients as a form of torturous entertainment. In 1700 it is recorded that the "lunatics" were called "patients" for the first time, and within twenty years separate wards for the "curable" and "incurable" patients had been established. Mental illness was now no longer an affliction, but a disease, to be diagnosed and potentially cured.

Anti-Mental Health and Anti-Psychiatry PoliticsEdit

Psychiatric liberation can have various definitions or connotations, with the respective points of view or opinionations. As a barrier to liberation social stigma, prejudice and discrimination can harm the person seeking the liberation from psychiatry. In large those who are fighting the mental health system and against psychiatry often wash their hands of assisting the victims of the mental health system. It is apparent that the person liberated is not granted sanctuary by the hands of the anti-psychiatry groups. In Washington, there were official successes of the mental health lobby, although a deep distrust of psychiatry continued to be elsewhere in the nation in the late 1950s. This distrust became clear in 1956 when forces emerged to oppose an apparently innocuous bill introduced in Congress to allow Alaska, which had not yet achieved statehood, to build a public psychiatric hospital. Because Alaska had no hospital of its own, Alaskan residents who needed psychiatric hospitalization had to be sent to Portland, Oregon, an obviously confusing experience for a psychiatrically impaired Alaskan native from a rural village. Right-wing groups across the United States organized a campaign to oppose the hospital legislation, claiming that the proposed psychiatric hospital would really be “a concentration camps for political prisoners under the guise of care and treatment of mental cases.” A housewife in California labeled the proposed hospital “Siberia, U.S.A.” and this name became a battle cry mental health advocates were said to be part of a broad Communist conspiracy to subvert American liberties and seize political power. Many racists groups tied the alleged communist plot to a broader Communist-Jewish conspiracy. For example, John Kaspar, a racist agitator, segregationist, and protégé of Ezra Pound (who corresponded with Kaspar regularly from his room at St. Elisabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.) argued that the proposed Alaskan psychiatric hospital was another attempt by Jews to brainwash Americans: “Psychiatry is a foreign ideology; it is alien to any kind of American thinking…its history began with Sigmund Freud who is a Jew…almost 100 percent of all psychiatric therapy and 80 percent of the psychiatrists are Jewish…one particular race is administering this particular thing.” The bill to build a psychiatric hospital in Alaska ultimately passed Congress, but an anti-mental health lobby had been established. Across the country, local initiatives to open mental health clinics ran the risk of encountering fierce opposition. In Delaware, thirty-five young men in black leather jackets disrupted an organizing meeting of a local mental health organization shouting that mental health was a Communist plot. In Utah, anti-mental health lobbyists packed a meeting of the state legislature that was considering setting up mental health services. In Wisconsin, opponents “caused the defeat of some twenty mental health measures that seemed certain of passage.” The magazine, of the Daughters of the American Revolution published a two-part series on mental health describing it as ‘a Marxist weapon” and alleging not only that 80 percent of American psychiatrists were foreigners but that "most of them…were… educated in Russia." The executive director of the Dallas Association of Mental Health received threatening telephone calls, and an academic symposium on mental health in Lubbock was picketed. The heartland of the anti-mental health movement, however, was Southern California. There the movement was adopted by some members of the John Birch Society and was well financed. Literature was widely distributed with allegations such as: "Mental health programs are part of a Communist plot to control the people’s minds” “"Mental hygiene is a subtle and diabolical plan of the enemy to transform a free and intelligent people in to a cringing horde of zombies” “Do we want to be become a regimented nation, brain-washed and brain-fed through a powerful army of psychiatrists” In the suburbs of Los Angeles a large billboard was erected in July 1958 : “It is amazing and appalling how many supposedly intelligent people have been duped by such Communist schemes as fluoridation and ‘Mental Health’ especially since both the American Legion and the D.A.R. have publicly branded ‘Mental Health’ as a communist plot to take over our country” When the Los Angeles City Council was asked to vote on a proposal to allow an unoccupied health center to be used as health clinic, the measure was defeated by 11 to o. One of the senators from California at the time was Richard M. Nixon, who had been elected in 1950 and would play an important role in opposing the mental health movement when he became president. It would become clear in later years that both Nixon and members of his staff (many of whom who also came from the Southern California area) were overtly antagonistic to psychiatry as well concept of mental health. Although the right-wing lobby was ridiculed as a lunatic fringe by the mental health establishment, some of its members were asking such cogent questions as ‘What is mental health” “By whose standards can we deduce that one person is normal and another is not?” They sensed intuitively what Kingsley Davis had described twenty years earlier, that “the mental hygienist is really enforcing in a secular way and under the guise of science the standards of the entire society health professionals claimed that they had revealed truth regarding such things as child-rearing practices and interpersonal relations, and the anti-mental health forces were asking where the revealed truth had come from. Unfortunately, these questions were usually so mixed in with anti-Communist and anti-Semitic slogans as well as with other issues such as the fluoridation of water and conspiracy theories, that the otherwise legitimate questions about the nature of mental health are never heard.

The above article, while appearing to contain some truth, lacks references and bears the hallmarks of Scientology teaching as promoted by David Miscavige on the Nightline show [1]. CCHR (mentioned below) is a Scientology-based organization. Actual data on the events that took place in Alaska is provided here [2]

Thomas SzaszEdit


Ron PaulEdit