Saturday, January 31, 2009

Kirkbride buildings

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Have you heard about Kirkbride buildings? I've written about them before, but it has been a long time. They are the buildings used to house many of the mentally ill in the late 1800's up to about 1990.

They were built to carry out a theory of the treatment called Moral Treatment. That theory said that if people live in non-hectic rural settings and have meaningful work to do, they will more likely overcome their mental illness.

To read more about that theory and the man who expounded it, click here.

I think the wisest poems I've ever read were written by Robert Burns. His "To a Louse" is a masterpiece. But today, I'm thinking of "To a Mouse" where he says something like, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray."

The Moral Treatment theory was that kind of thing. Formed by the Quakers in Europe, it worked there because the farms were small and the rural settings were really rural. Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride came up with a way to make it huge in a way that only Americans can do, and so it became inhumane.

How many times have there been good ideas, filled with good intentions, that are steered some other way? The Kirkbride buildings saved mentally ill people from poor houses and prisons. But sometimes they became frightening places in themselves.

Think about it yourself. How many situations can you remember where people tried to do good things (in government, in schools, in churches), and those plans went astray?

I write all kinds of books, not just the Roy Rogers books. But the Roy Rogers books are set in a 1950's mental hospital. Roy roams a Kirkbride building.

One thing I hope for The Body in the Record Room and the other Roy Rogers books is that they will remind people of the mentally ill. I hope they will encourage people to urge their governments and local hospitals to do more to treat the mentally ill humanely. Of course, "The best laid plans . . ."



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