HISTORY OF THE PERIOD PRECEDING THE GEORGENTHAL MENTAL HOME
IN the “Anzeiger,” a daily paper “for the use of the Law administrators, constabulary and all Civic professions, as also for the free and mutual entertainment of the reader on all kinds of useful subjects,” of March 8th, 1792, appeared an appeal signed by R.Z.Becker, editor of the paper, which read as follows:
Proposal for a much needed relief Institution for Mental Patients of the better classes.
Very often a person who is most useful to the world and to his family, and who is frequently indispensable, or otherwise important as regards position, means, feeling or intelligence, sinks through some trifling cause into an animal-like dullness of mind. He clings to some disjointed and fixed ideas, or his spirit shrouds itself in an impenetrable veil of brooding and melancholy. Moral as well as physical conditions combine ultimately to destroy the nervous system, Seeing that confusion of the intellect is one of the most distressing of all human afflictions, it is deplorable that little or no care is taken in Germany of this pitiable class of humanity.
The Asylums, usually run in connection with prisons and workhouses, are generally conducted in such a way that miserable beings are insufficiently fed. They are merely kept in close confinement in order to prevent them from doing harm to one another, and nothing more. Usually their malady is increased, and they become incurable by accessory circumstances, or by the rough and injudicious treatment of the attendants. There is usually only one doctor in charge of such an institution, although twenty would be required for the ultimate purpose of curing this large number of unfortunate inmates.
Often a physician in such a position has neither the courage nor sufficient knowledge for this special branch of work. He very soon wearies under the burden of his occupation and decides (as almost always happens)not to overwork himself- that is, he learns to regard callously the dozens or hundreds of these patients and to do nothing for them in the actual sense of the word.
These noblest of all creatures, destined for the exalted use of Reason, are here treated as wild beasts from Africa intended for exhibition would not be treated. Or they are kept like inanimate objects for three, four, ten, thirty or more years for the not altogether humane object of sooner or later giving them over to corruption in a silent grave- without contributing to the alleviation of the disease, without restoring them to the usefulness for which in their former days they had been so deserving of honour; they are kept, i say, with an indolence which does not credit to our century. This is inflicted upon the middle and lower classes of the population. “They must rest content with the existing institutions,” says the heartless onlooker.
What will the distinguished relatives do with such unfortunate beings? What is the husband to do, who has become more sensitive through his improved position and better circumstances, or the mother, with her sons who have occupied posts of honour, when they fall into this distressing condition? The most sincere sympathy, tears, honest sorrow,. the sacrifice of large sums of money avail nothing. Nothing can call back, in most cases, the health and reason of their beloved ones. Their inhuman speech, their foolish acts, repulse those who come near them and make these pitiable and helpless creatures a disgrace to the family. What is the family physician to do? One cannot expect him to have an extensive knowledge of this branch of medicine. He tries some known remedies, abandons them and replaces them with others, then he begins a long course of treatment which often fails to have the desired effect. In the end he wearies of the case, and advises the distinguished relatives to give the patient up and have him removed to an institution, But where? Perhaps to incarcerate the patient for ever in one of those asylums, to be herded with the disgraceful collection of criminals, unfortunates and sick of all kinds: there, the tumult of the insane, partially insane and maniacs of all degrees and classes, appeals any honest family. Should this be the fate of a family of exalted position — father, mother, husband or wife — without their seeing before them the faintest ray of hope that the health and reason of their beloved will be restored on this side of the grave?
Is this treatment to be meted out to people in a good position from wealthy homes? I need not add more, I think, in order to make you feel how desirable it would be to have a decent home for this class of patient. I am glad to be able to announce that a preposition in this spirit has been made by a physician who is both scientific and practical, and who is well- known to me and to the scientific world. He is taking steps to establish an institution which will accommodate about four better class mental patients. He will devote all his time to them, and they will be under his supervision both day and night. They will neither be beaten nor confined in chains, and no harsh treatment will be used in order to bring them back to reason. Everything that the deep and mature thought of the doctor can devise will be tried in order to restore body and soul to health again, such as gentle persuasion as well as the best medical treatment.