Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mental Illness Awareness Week 2011

By Diane Forrest, RN

In November, 1848, East State Louisiana Mental Hospital was opened in Jackson Louisiana.  The patients were provided by the Charity hospital in New Orleans.  They arrived by steam boat down the Mississippi River, then transported to the hospital on an ox cart.  Some of the first residents included a 18 year old slave with a diagnosis of mania, a 75 year old French woman, name unknown, for senile and dementia, a 21 year old female with epilepsy, and a 5 year old little girl with a diagnosis of idiot.   This hospital was one of the first 10 opened in this country, and it is still in use today.  I am telling you this because this is Mental Illness Awareness Week.

While I was in nursing school, I was fortunate to do my psychiatric clinical at this hospital.  My classmates and I spent 4 weeks here, living on the grounds.  When we arrived, we were taken on a tour that included some of the original structures.  A picture of how this hospital looked in 1907 can be seen above.   They had rooms/cells in the basement for the criminally insane that would send chills down your spine.  The accommodations for the non-criminals were nearly as appalling.  Residents would be handcuffed to the beds at night and at times during the day.

While mental illness has been documented for centuries, the causes and treatments are still evolving. In the 19th century the terms used for mental illness included crazy, from the term cracked; lunacy, madness and psychosis.  People were placed in "madhouses", insane asylums, or the lunatic asylums.  Some people were kept in the family homes, locked away in attics or basements.  There was a real stigma associated with these patients, and their families.  This stigma is still noticeable today.

Treatment for these patients was also experimental.  Not only were they locked or chained to prevent them from escaping, they were also sterilized, given electroshock treatments, had lobotomies performed (a procedure that removes part of the brain believed to be the cause of the illness) and given lithium and during World War II, they were put to death by Hitler.

Following World War II development in the US of a new psychiatric manual for categorizing mental disorders, which along with existing systems for collecting census and hospital statistics led to the first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) followed suit with a section on mental disorders.  This manual is still being used today, and it is constantly being updated, and expanded.

There are many different mental illnesses recognized today, these include:
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Impulse control and addiction disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Adjustment disorders
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Factitious disorders
  • Sexual and gender disorders
  • Tic disorders
  • Somatoform disorders
  • Sleep related problems and many forms of dementia because they involve the brain.

An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older - about one in four adults - suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in any given year. However, stigma surrounding mental illness is a major barrier that prevents people from seeking the mental health treatment that they need.  Programs during Mental Illness Awareness Week are designed to create community awareness and discussion in an effort to put an end to stigma and advocate for treatment and recovery.

For more information and for ways you can help, visit this website:

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