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Riassunto: The history of mental health services during the past 150 years has been told by a number of authors, usually accompanied by a dozen or fewer photographs. In this remarkable book that history is covered in narrative, but it also includes well over 600 photographs, which have never before been widely published. Many are so rare that they are of events that few have ever seen. The author was given full access to the entire range of photographs held by state mental health facilities in Illinois, in order to identify and preserve for the public this fragile historical resource. In addition he combed through various State, county, and municipal archives, and included his own collection of historical photos to assemble a stunning collection of photographs with historical importance. The majority of photographs have historical relevance beyond the confines of the State of Illinois.
The text begins with the efforts in the 1840s of a group of educated, socially conscious, citizens to improve the plight of the mentally ill in Illinois, including their invitation to the social reformer, Dorothea Lynde Dix, to join their effort. It proceeds through their establishment of a then state-of-the-art asylum built on the Kirkbride plan. Through nineteen chapters, 580 pages, and over 600 photographs the book documents the opening of the first Illinois asylum in 1851, and those to follow, along with the ÒMoral TreatmentÓ that was characteristic of the early days. The book photographically illustrates the ascendance of the asylum, its apex, and the ultimate decline in the middle of the twentieth century that was so common in all States of the U.S., the Provinces of Canada, and in many other countries.
The illustrations in this text include rare photographs of the daily activities of patients, their living conditions, their institutional and occupational assignments, and their leisure activities. There are unusual, turn of the nineteenth century, photos of patients and staff boating, playing tennis and at dances. It includes photos of a pastoral era, and photos of the alternative horrid county poorhouses in the late nineteenth century.
The photos do not neglect the remarkable architecture that was considered to be so critical to the concept of the therapeutic asylum. Through the course of the text, the change from architectural grandure in the past to today's utilitarianism is visually obvious. Many of the older photos of the physical plants are fascinating for what they reveal about the complexity of the institutions that were considered technological showplaces in their day. They generally were the first to have gas plants for gas lighting, dynamo rooms for later electric powered lights, grand auditoriums, natatoriums, swimming pools, fitness spas, large farms, canning plants, and the other aspects of the self- contained community.
The book does not neglect some of the less positive aspects of State hospitals. There are images of terribly overcrowded wards from the 1940s and 1950s that became so overwhelming that the State hospital fell into disrepute. The text also photographically documents the deinstitutionalization era, the growth of community mental health concepts and centers, and the "new" state hospital at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
For the individual interested, in general, in seeing what asylums, State hospitals, and treatment over the past 150 years actually looked like, and for those interested specifically in the Illinois public mental health system, the book is a visual treat.
About the Author: Joseph Mehr, Ph.D. is a clinical/consulting psychologist who has had a long-term interest in the history of mental health care. After a thirty-seven year career with the Illinois Department of Mental Health and its successor entity, he retired and was able to work on writing the narrative and compiling the photographs for this work. This text joins other texts by Dr. Mehr, several of which have been adopted as successful college textbooks. Dr. Mehr has an extensive collection of photos of historic interest in the mental health field.
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