Life at the Texas State Lunatic Asylum, 1857-1997 (Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University)

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9781603447393: Life at the Texas State Lunatic Asylum, 1857-1997 (Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University)
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The nineteenth-century "cult of curability" engendered the optimistic belief that mental illness could be cured under ideal conditions removal from the stresses of everyday life to asylum, a pleasant, well-regulated environment where healthy meals, daily exercise, and social contact were the norm. This utopian view led to the reform and establishment of lunatic asylums throughout the United States. The Texas State Lunatic Asylum (later called the Austin State Hospital) followed national trends, and its history documents national mental health practices in microcosm.

Drawing on diverse sources patient records from the nineteenth century, papers and reports of the institution's various superintendents, transcripts of interviews of former employees, newspaper accounts, personal memoirs, and interviews Sarah C. Sitton has recreated what life in "our little town" was like from the institution's opening in 1861 to its de-institutionalization in the 1980s and 1990s.

For more than a century, the asylum community resembled a self-sufficient village complete with its own blacksmith shop, icehouse, movie theater, brass band, baseball team, and undertakers. Beautifully landscaped grounds and gravel lanes attracted locals for Sunday carriage drives. Patients tended livestock, tilled gardens, helped prepare meals, and cleaned wards. Their routines might include weekly dances and religious services, as well as cold tubs, paraldehyde, and electroshock. Employees, from the superintendent on down, lived on the grounds, and their children grew up "with inmates for playmates." While the superintendent exercised almost feudal power, deciding if staff could date or marry, a multigenerational "clan" of several interlinked families controlled its day-to-day operations for decades.

With the current emphasis on community-based care for the mentally ill and the negative consequences of de-institutionalization increasingly apparent, the debate on how best to care for the state’s and the nation’s mentally ill continues.

This examination offers historical and practical insights which will be of interest to practitioners and policy makers in the field of mental health as well as to individuals interested in the history of the state of Texas.

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About the Author:

Sarah Sitton is an associate professor of psychology at St. Edward's University. Her interest in the Austin State Hospital grew out of research she conducted in 1990 for a history she wrote about an Austin neighborhood, Austin's Hyde Park: The First Fifty Years, 1891-1941. She lives in Austin.

From The New England Journal of Medicine:

The care of persons with severe and persistent mental disorders is full of uncertainty and controversy. There is a crisis in public health and safety today because of the many thousands of such persons who are homeless or incarcerated and in need of treatment and support. To a great extent, we have regressed as a society to an era of 150 years ago, when a moral crusade on behalf of the homeless and incarcerated "insane" led to the asylum movement in the United States.

Sarah Sitton's history, Life at the Texas State Lunatic Asylum, 1857-1997, recalls that earlier era of reform and the vicissitudes of institutional care over a 140-year period, as reflected in archives and the memories of staff members, patients, and concerned citizens. Although there is much in this account that reminds us of the reasons for deinstitutionalization in the 1970s and 1980s, some of the positive aspects of asylum care are also given prominence in this lively and well-written narrative.

The idea that a place of safety in a beautiful location would have curative power derived from concepts articulated by Dorothea Dix, a prominent social reformer from Massachusetts, in the mid-19th century. Sitton's history neglects Dix's contribution to the establishment of asylums in Texas and elsewhere, a major omission from any history of the asylums founded in the 19th century.

"Moral treatment," as it was called, emphasized kindness, persuasion, and a daily routine rather than coercion, punishment, and restraint. Asylums were intended to be curative, not custodial, but changing concepts of mental illness and the economics of care undermined the original concept, as is illustrated by the change that took place at the Texas State Lunatic Asylum in the latter part of the 19th century. Families and local communities took the opportunity offered by the creation of a state-supported institution to shift the responsibility for the care of chronically ill, senile, and mentally retarded relatives to the state facility, and what had originally been an asylum designed for the care of several hundred acutely ill patients rapidly became an institution providing care for several thousand patients.

Throughout this narrative, Sitton describes the daily grim routines of the handful of physicians who were responsible for the care of many thousands of patients. She describes the power of attendants over the lives of patients, the lack of physical and medical resources to treat them, and the abuses that occurred in addition to loss of liberty. Over the years of incarceration, many patients became unpaid workers in these institutions, and although they regarded such places as home, theirs was indeed a very impoverished existence.

The power of the superintendent was extraordinary. Patients lost their liberty at his discretion, and the arrangement of care and treatment was entirely in his hands. The institution was highly politicized, since the state legislature controlled the appropriations and often the expectations that the institutions would care for all who showed up at the door. High turnover among superintendents was the rule rather than the exception in the early years of the Texas State Lunatic Asylum at Austin.

This book is full of interesting anecdotes and stories of life in the Austin State Hospital (as it was renamed in the early 20th century). There are many pictures and illustrations of the buildings, the uniforms of both staff members and patients, and the work and recreational routines. The maintenance of order, through formal as well as informal rules, determined how patients adapted to life in a community that sometimes resembled a family and sometimes a jail.

In the mid-1950s, rocked by scandals about the conditions of care, mental hospitals nationally and in Texas came under attack, and with the arrival of powerful and effective antipsychotic medications, along with a powerful new ideology supporting community-based treatments, these hospitals began to empty their beds at a rapid pace. Legal advocates began a series of lawsuits aimed at protecting the rights of patients, which facilitated the movement of patients out of the hospital, but it was probably economics more than any other factor that led to the dramatic reduction in the hospital census in Texas and elsewhere. A shift of costs from the state to the federal government, as patients became eligible for Supplemental Security Income, Medicare, and Medicaid, accounts for deinstitutionalization more than any other factor.

Many if not most communities were unprepared for the discharge of these patients, as was clear from the fact that resources were moved from the institution to the community neither in sufficient amounts nor at a rapid enough pace, leading to the public health disaster we have on our hands today. But, unless we forget what those institutions were really like, a return to the earlier system is unimaginable. This is what the book helps us remember. Although some patients today may require some form of institutional care, a return to the "lunatic asylum" of old would be a terrible admission of clinical defeat. If we keep the dignity of patients with serious mental disorders foremost in our public policy, we can design and implement humane and effective opportunities for the care and treatment of such patients.

Reviewed by Steven Sharfstein, M.D.
Copyright © 2000 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS.

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Book Description Texas A M University Press, United States, 2012. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. The nineteenth-century cult of curability engendered the optimistic belief that mental illness could be cured under ideal conditions--removal from the stresses of everyday life to asylum, a pleasant, well-regulated environment where healthy meals, daily exercise, and social contact were the norm. This utopian view led to the reform and establishment of lunatic asylums throughout the United States. The Texas State Lunatic Asylum (later called the Austin State Hospital) followed national trends, and its history documents national mental health practices in microcosm. Drawing on diverse sources--patient records from the nineteenth century, papers and reports of the institution s various superintendents, transcripts of interviews of former employees, newspaper accounts, personal memoirs, and interviews--Sarah C. Sitton has recreated what life in our little town was like from the institution s opening in 1861 to its de-institutionalization in the 1980s and 1990s. For more than a century, the asylum community resembled a self-sufficient village complete with its own blacksmith shop, icehouse, movie theater, brass band, baseball team, and undertakers. Beautifully landscaped grounds and gravel lanes attracted locals for Sunday carriage drives. Patients tended livestock, tilled gardens, helped prepare meals, and cleaned wards. Their routines might include weekly dances and religious services, as well as cold tubs, paraldehyde, and electroshock. Employees, from the superintendent on down, lived on the grounds, and their children grew up with inmates for playmates. While the superintendent exercised almost feudal power, deciding if staff could date or marry, a multigenerational clan of several interlinked families controlled its day-to-day operations for decades. With the current emphasis on community-based care for the mentally ill and the negative consequences of de-institutionalization increasingly apparent, the debate on how best to care for the state s--and the nation s--mentally ill continues. This examination offers historical and practical insights which will be of interest to practitioners and policy makers in the field of mental health as well as to individuals interested in the history of the state of Texas. Seller Inventory # APC9781603447393

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Book Description Texas A M University Press, United States, 2012. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.The nineteenth-century cult of curability engendered the optimistic belief that mental illness could be cured under ideal conditions--removal from the stresses of everyday life to asylum, a pleasant, well-regulated environment where healthy meals, daily exercise, and social contact were the norm. This utopian view led to the reform and establishment of lunatic asylums throughout the United States. The Texas State Lunatic Asylum (later called the Austin State Hospital) followed national trends, and its history documents national mental health practices in microcosm. Drawing on diverse sources--patient records from the nineteenth century, papers and reports of the institution s various superintendents, transcripts of interviews of former employees, newspaper accounts, personal memoirs, and interviews--Sarah C. Sitton has recreated what life in our little town was like from the institution s opening in 1861 to its de-institutionalization in the 1980s and 1990s. For more than a century, the asylum community resembled a self-sufficient village complete with its own blacksmith shop, icehouse, movie theater, brass band, baseball team, and undertakers. Beautifully landscaped grounds and gravel lanes attracted locals for Sunday carriage drives. Patients tended livestock, tilled gardens, helped prepare meals, and cleaned wards. Their routines might include weekly dances and religious services, as well as cold tubs, paraldehyde, and electroshock. Employees, from the superintendent on down, lived on the grounds, and their children grew up with inmates for playmates. While the superintendent exercised almost feudal power, deciding if staff could date or marry, a multigenerational clan of several interlinked families controlled its day-to-day operations for decades. With the current emphasis on community-based care for the mentally ill and the negative consequences of de-institutionalization increasingly apparent, the debate on how best to care for the state s--and the nation s--mentally ill continues. This examination offers historical and practical insights which will be of interest to practitioners and policy makers in the field of mental health as well as to individuals interested in the history of the state of Texas. Seller Inventory # APC9781603447393

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Book Description Texas A M University Press, United States, 2012. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. The nineteenth-century cult of curability engendered the optimistic belief that mental illness could be cured under ideal conditions-removal from the stresses of everyday life to asylum, a pleasant, well-regulated environment where healthy meals, daily exercise, and social contact were the norm. This utopian view led to the reform and establishment of lunatic asylums throughout the United States. The Texas State Lunatic Asylum (later called the Austin State Hospital) followed national trends, and its history documents national mental health practices in microcosm. Drawing on diverse sources-patient records from the nineteenth century, papers and reports of the institution s various superintendents, transcripts of interviews of former employees, newspaper accounts, personal memoirs, and interviews-Sarah C. Sitton has recreated what life in our little town was like from the institution s opening in 1861 to its de-institutionalization in the 1980s and 1990s. For more than a century, the asylum community resembled a self-sufficient village complete with its own blacksmith shop, icehouse, movie theater, brass band, baseball team, and undertakers. Beautifully landscaped grounds and gravel lanes attracted locals for Sunday carriage drives. Patients tended livestock, tilled gardens, helped prepare meals, and cleaned wards. Their routines might include weekly dances and religious services, as well as cold tubs, paraldehyde, and electroshock. Employees, from the superintendent on down, lived on the grounds, and their children grew up with inmates for playmates. While the superintendent exercised almost feudal power, deciding if staff could date or marry, a multigenerational clan of several interlinked families controlled its day-to-day operations for decades. With the current emphasis on community-based care for the mentally ill and the negative consequences of de-institutionalization increasingly apparent, the debate on how best to care for the state s-and the nation s-mentally ill continues. This examination offers historical and practical insights which will be of interest to practitioners and policy makers in the field of mental health as well as to individuals interested in the history of the state of Texas. Seller Inventory # TNP9781603447393

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Book Description Texas A&M University Press. Paperback. Condition: New. 208 pages. Dimensions: 9.0in. x 5.9in. x 0.6in.The nineteenth-century cult of curability engendered the optimistic belief that mental illness could be cured under ideal conditionsremoval from the stresses of everyday life to asylum, a pleasant, well-regulated environment where healthy meals, daily exercise, and social contact were the norm. This utopian view led to the reform and establishment of lunatic asylums throughout the United States. The Texas State Lunatic Asylum (later called the Austin State Hospital) followed national trends, and its history documents national mental health practices in microcosm. Drawing on diverse sourcespatient records from the nineteenth century, papers and reports of the institutions various superintendents, transcripts of interviews of former employees, newspaper accounts, personal memoirs, and interviewsSarah C. Sitton has recreated what life in our little town was like from the institutions opening in 1861 to its de-institutionalization in the 1980s and 1990s. For more than a century, the asylum community resembled a self-sufficient village complete with its own blacksmith shop, icehouse, movie theater, brass band, baseball team, and undertakers. Beautifully landscaped grounds and gravel lanes attracted locals for Sunday carriage drives. Patients tended livestock, tilled gardens, helped prepare meals, and cleaned wards. Their routines might include weekly dances and religious services, as well as cold tubs, paraldehyde, and electroshock. Employees, from the superintendent on down, lived on the grounds, and their children grew up with inmates for playmates. While the superintendent exercised almost feudal power, deciding if staff could date or marry, a multigenerational clan of several interlinked families controlled its day-to-day operations for decades. With the current emphasis on community-based care for the mentally ill and the negative consequences of de-institutionalization increasingly apparent, the debate on how best to care for the statesand the nationsmentally ill continues. This examination offers historical and practical insights which will be of interest to practitioners and policy makers in the field of mental health as well as to individuals interested in the history of the state of Texas. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Seller Inventory # 9781603447393

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