Every you, Every me.
It was an ordinary Friday morning, wasn’t it? Just an average day…
Some of us walked our children to the bus stop while some of us just gave our older kids a kiss and took our perch at the window. We hugged and kissed our children before the bravely took…
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Do you know who Dorothea Dix is or why she has always been my true hero?
Dorothea Dix was a schoolteacher from Boston who was born in 1802. Seeking a cure for a reoccurring illness, she traveled to England. She was exposed to some pretty progressive ideas, for her time and even ours, regarding social reform and what was then the “British lunacy reform movement.”
She came back to the states with a new purpose. She spent the first year investigating how Massachusetts cared for their “insane poor”. She presented a loaded report, or Memorial, and lobbied for a bill that would expand the state asylum in Worcester. She became an unstoppable force as she swooped through from New Hampshire to Louisiana, publishing her Memorials, lobbying, and helping draft legislation for better care for this country’s weakest and most vulnerable citizens - state by state.
With the rise of the state institutions and thanks to the Kirkbride Plan, the quality of mental health care improved on dramatic levels. She was instrumental in the founding of my beloved Danvers State Hospital and the Harrisburg State Hospital here in PA. Her work culminated in the “Bill for the Benefit of the Indigent Insane” which requested a federal land grant to continue to provide for increasing mental health demands across the country. It passed through both houses, but President Pierce shot down with a veto stating that the federal government should not commit to social welfare, but that it should be left to the states. Sadly, this stopped Dorothea in her tracks. She headed back to Europe and went on to survey the Scottish mental health system.
During the Civil War back here in the States, she was appointed Superintendent of the Army Nurses for the Union. After resigning in 1865, she went back to her calling, first investigating damage done to the asylums during the war. In 1881, she moved into one of her state hospitals to live out the rest of her days until 1887.
She just so happens to also be buried at my favorite cemetery.
Dorothea made progress in leaps and bounds, however these institutions became overcrowded, underfunded, and outgrown as she knew they would…creating a monster of an entirely different hell that was not dissimilar to the original conditions that shocked her. The next big thing in mental health treatment were the first of psychiatric medications accurately nicknamed “lobotomies in a bottle”. After some time, they simply began to throw open the doors of the old asylums and begin the mass exodus known as deinstitutionalization.
The idea was that with these new medications, the mentally ill could be more effectively treated in the community…however, the services in place were and still are inadequate at best and negligent at heart. Deinstitutionalization is yet another mental health catastrophe that falls into obscurity…and now we question why do we have such a sick society?
The Los Angeles County Jail is by default the largest mental institution in the United States and has been for decades. Dorothea Dix built refuge…and now we have a handful of operational institutions…a few more grand, abandoned buildings…several more sets of ruins…and some luxury apartments and golf courses and other poorly executed reuse plans.
It’s time for real reform. Now. It’s time for social responsibility. Now.