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Add horror stories to the peep shows

July 18, 2008
by Ann Borders
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Doug's postings about the stigma debacle in West Virginia are unsettling to say the least—especially since it's my home state. I can only assume that the incredible natural beauty of West Virginia has so bedazzled a few of its residents that they have lost their capacity for clear thinking. But as we all know, the problem is not isolated. Indiana's past is marked by its national leadership in the field of eugenics.

Dr. Harry Clay Sharp's "Indiana procedure" for statewide sterilization of persons with mental illness and other "imperfections" was briefly replicated by other states. J.N. Hurty's "The Indiana Movement," a paper read in Chicago in 1907, included the complaint that the insane are living too long and should die off earlier, like they used to. "The duration of the lives of the insane, of the criminals, of the idiots, of the epileptics and habitual paupers, has been increased, by care in public institutions, about eight years in Indiana in the last two decades. The average duration of life in the same period for the whole population, has increased only four and one-half years."

Shortly after my arrival in Indiana, I had an opportunity to hear a talk by a panel of individuals who had been hospitalized at Central State Hospital in Indianapolis. (The hospital closed in 1994 after numerous media reports about deaths, abuse, neglect, and the overall conditions within the facilities.) These mostly young people described physical and emotional abuse, along with reports of patients chained to columns. Former employees of the hospital gave similar accounts.

And that was in the 1990s! Providers seldom have a day that is not in some way adversely impacted by stigma. How insignificant, though, in comparison to what persons affected by mental illness and addiction encounter on a daily basis. We still have mountains to climb—whether they be in the Mountain State or on the flat terrain of Indiana.

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Comments

Actually, Dan Savage is a Sex Columnist for a Seattle newspaper. I think you meant the radio host Michael Savage :-)

The public outrage about his comments are very encouraging, however what if he was talking about schizophrenia or bipolar illness caused by incompetent parenting. Hopefully the outrage would be as loud. I still remember when we did blame familial communication patterns for schizophrenic children.

Good observation. The infamous "they're just brats" message. To quote WebMD's take on Savage, "Like most advice columnists think Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren Dan has no professional qualifications, just lots of common sense, a sense of humor, and a pronounced inability to suffer fools gladly." The issue of stigma is certainly not helped when self-appointed experts speak in ignorance.

In the record-shattering new Batman movie, the Joker recruits people with paranoid schizophrenia, according to Batman, who says they're ideal recruits for the Joker's violent, twisted ways. My friend with me at the movie probably heard me groan, as I was very disappointed. A movie with this large of a reach has a *responsibility* to not promote such stereotypes, even if it is a fantasy film.

Gotcha. Any way you look at it, it's a pretty um... savage... situation when the commentators feel that they have the right to make up the "truth" as they go along. Especially when the stakes are so high. Thanks for the catch, Mr/Ms. Anonymous!

Heard that Dan Savage guy's comments on autism? A lot of minds still to change!

Ann Borders

President and CEO, Cummins Behavioral Health Systems, Inc

http://cumminsbhs.org/

Ann Borders is president and CEO of Cummins Behavioral Health Systems, Inc., serving eight...