“Your Hospitals Are Not Our Hospitals”

In response to an essay by Lucy Ozarin in “Psychiatric News,” the biweekly newspaper of the American Psychiatric Association, I submitted a Letter to the Editor of the journal. A week later, when I received no acknowledgment of it, I sent another e-mail to the editor, inquiring about the status of my submission. It, too, was unanswered.

Lucy Ozarin’s “History Notes” (June 1) was too brief to accurately convey relations between American neurologists and psychiatrists toward the end of the nineteenth century. Also, she omitted the moral issue that divided Weir Mitchell from his psychiatric colleagues — the prison-function of the mental hospital. Like Ozarin, books on the history of psychiatry regularly omit the following passage from Mitchell’s lecture to the “asylum doctors” (as psychiatrists were then called):

“You quietly submit to having hospitals called asylums; you are labeled as medical superintendents … You should urge in every report the stupid folly of this. You … conduct a huge boarding house — what has been called a monastery of the mad…. I presume that you have, through habit, lost the sense of jail and jailor which troubles me when I walk behind one of you and he unlocks door after door.. … You have for too long maintained the fiction that there is some mysterious therapeutic influence to be found behind your walls and locked doors. We hold the reverse opinion … Your hospitals are not our hospitals; your ways are not our ways.”

(From, Mitchell, S. W., “Address before the Fiftieth Annual Meeting of the American Medico-Psychological Association, held in Philadelphia, May 16th, 1894,” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 2413-437, July, 1894, pp. 414, 427.)


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