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.