Asylum’s Have Value in Treating Serious Mental Illness

Joseph Merlin Bowers

I suspect I would have gotten into recovery eventually with well executed outpatient treatment the times I was in mental institutions or psych wards because of acute psychoses, but I believe it would have taken longer. This is because of the asylum itself.

When we push for everyone who possibly can to be in community and not in an institution, we are forgetting the value and nature of asylum. When I was a patient at Middletown State Mental Hospital twice in the sixties, I was in a very bucolic peaceful setting. We patients would maintain among ourselves that yes the asylum protected society and the outside world from us, but it also protected us from society and the outside world.

When they take away one’s freedom, they also take away one’s responsibility for oneself. Freedom comes with much responsibility. In an asylum one need not worry about study, work, family responsibilities, the needs and wants of friends or anything that free people need to deal with on a daily basis. The virtually stress free environment used to be an important and valuable aid in getting into recovery.

I’m not advocating for a return to institutions where people were warehoused and abused. I’m advocating for the establishment of institutions where people are well cared for.

In my case stays in hospitals were a question of weeks or months in duration. My longest stays were about two and a half months. Today with the remaining state hospitals being almost entirely forensic institutions rather than civil institutions, the stays are much longer. No longer a matter of weeks or months but years and often many years.

This creates a problem. After years incarcerated, people struggle to adopt to life on the outside and the responsibilities that come with freedom. At CMHIP, the Colorado Mental Health Institution in Pueblo, professionals and staff are aware of this problem. They work to prepare people for life on the outside and to support them when outside. but some just can’t make the adjustment. In the interest of humaneness there are some who should never be released. Some who are don’t last long outside.

Almost everyone at CMHIP wants to get out and as soon as possible, but a small number are ambivalent about it and a few never want life outside again.

In a perfect world, in my opinion, we would have plentiful well run asylums much more civil institutions than the current case where people mentally ill and needing a respite from the demands of normal life could rest and get care until ready to rejoin the rat race. Those needing long term care or permanent asylum would get it.

The word asylum carries negative connotations today. That was not always the case.

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