Coverage of some recent violent attacks on female patients in mental health facilities in Milwaukee County in the U.S., prompted a medical journalist to contact me with an interesting set of questions – ones for which I had no ready answers. Perhaps, some readers and subscribers of H-Madness have some thoughts on the subject. When did mixed-gender wards and units begin to emerge in psychiatric facilities? How widespread have these historically been? Were they the results of institutional pressures in the wake of de-institutionalization? Were they a function of changing ideas about reintegrating institutional patients in society following World War II? Or do they have a longer history?
PsychCentral has a pithy piece by Margarita Tartakovsky that discusses some of the common stereotypes found in mass media representations of people suffering from mental illness (Click here to see the article). Some of the most common being that: people with mental illnesses are prone to violent outbursts; the mentally ill are unpredictable; depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. All of these contain some measure of truth, of course, but are grossly exaggerated in the media. Particularly noteworthy is discussion of I. Schneider’s 1987 sketch of three conventional ways in which the movie industry over the course of the 20th century scripted psychiatric professionals – as evil (Dr. Evil), foolish (Dr. Dippy), or wonderful (Dr. Wonderful). Not only could the same be said of film and tv presentations of virtually all medical personnel (something the British tv series Green Wing got down to a comedic art), but also of those deemed insane as well – all in all, an interesting kind of symmetry. On the surface, at least, there appears to be a limited repertoire of tropes and narrative plots upon which popular – and, it would also seem, scholarly – representations of the mad and mentally ill have relied. I would be interested in hearing from others about other historical variations, especially those that were once prominent, but now have all but disappeared.
As mentioned in an earlier post, Greg Eghigian has just published From Madness to Mental Health: Psychiatric Disorder and its Treatment in Western Civilization (Rutgers University Press). It is an edited collection of documents covering the history of madness and mental illness from ancient times to the present. You can now hear a podcast interview with him about the book. Just click here
National Public Radio has aired a story that examines the history of the increasing diagnosis of children with bipolar disorder in the United States. The draft of the DSM-V that was just recently released attempts to mitigate against this trend with its proposal for a new diagnostic category: Temper Dysregulation Disorder.
You can access the NPR story at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123544191
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last month in the case of the United States v. Comstock. The case involves establishing the limits of the state’s power to use civil commitment law to institutionalize sex offenders who have completed their criminal sentences. While the case heard before the Supreme Court largely centers on the more or less technical matter of whether the federal government may usurp individual states’ rights in this regard, it has brought national media attention to a development that has been on the rise on both sides of the Atlantic – the use of commitment laws and/or psychiatric facilities to detain convicts, most without a readily apparent diagnosis. Over the course of the 20th century, countries have adopted a variety of approaches to this issue: the Institution for Psychopathic Criminals in Denmark, social-therapeutic facilities in the Federal Republic of Germany, and, more recently, long-stay facilities in the Netherlands.
Read the transcript of the Supreme Court hearing here: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/08-1224.pdf