Sunday, June 28, 2009

Memories of Mental Health Past

Thanks to Gavin Elster for leading me to this 1982 employee orientation video for the Camarillo State Hospital that closed more than a decade ago and has since become a university campus.

It's easy to laugh at the huge lapels on the polyester blazers, the monotone delivery and generally inept presentation. But it's also rather fascinating to get a glimpse of mental health history and wonder what happened to the 4,000 plus clients and employees who were watched over by the CEO. His mannerisms remind me of Norman Neal Williams as portrayed in the first installment of the BBC's treatment of Tales of the City.

It's easy to see this man as the villain in some slasher movie telling each of his victims with the same detached, nasal droning voice, "You made me do it. You made me do it." It's a bit disturbing that a CEO would have to refer to a script to describe what his hospital does. Some of the comments for former clients on the YouTube page for this series suggest it was a very traumatic place to live.

Watch and then take a valium.

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At 10:45 AM, Blogger Salty Miss Jill said...

Human warehouses. Then people were released without medication or monitoring and left to their own devices, usually the streets. Disgraceful.

At 11:09 AM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Salty - Yes, "left to their own devices, usually the streets" -- of San Francisco.

At 9:32 PM, Blogger Joe said...

A very good friend of mine grew up in a ranch house a few lima-bean fields down the road from the place and was terrorized by community warnings about the occasional "escapee." True story.

I don't know enough about the "patient's rights" legislation that did away with all but the most extreme involuntary committal to such places -- I'm not sure there's ever a simplistic story to tell -- but with that limited knowledge I feel ambivalent about both the institutions and the level of care that replaced them.

I'd like to see the CSU campus; I hear some of the buildings look quite nice.

At 9:38 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Joe - It's hard to believe that quality care was given universally on a campus of more than 4,000, but what happened to them upon release may have been worse. And now we have ZERO state funds to help them...

However, I hear that there is some nice architecture on that campus.

At 8:59 AM, Blogger Joe said...

Is "zero" state funds actually true? There's actually still a state hospital in Atascadero, I believe. Also, doesn't every county have Mental Health Services and cadres of social workers? Not that I think it's nearly enough, of course. I don't know enough about the situation, but it breaks my heart.

I also highly recommend the movie The Soloist, though I'm sure it's derided as being overly sentimental. Steve Lopez's writing in the LA Times was great; I should probably pick up his book. He's a great columnist who I think has done a lot.

At 9:20 AM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Joe - Well, that ZERO comment was an exaggeration but not that far from the truth when the state starts issuing IOUs to many vendors come Thursday unless some miracle happens.

As far as I know Atascadero is still going strong. I traveled to Mesoamerica a few years back with a doctor from there who worked in the juvenile unit. He had a very odd sense of humor that seemed to be a survival skill in his line of work.

It's a heart breaking situation, and there seems to be far too few services to serve the people in need.


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