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Imagine you are suffering from mental illness in the 1800s: You find yourself in a dank basement of a hospital, surrounded by other people in the same situation—some of them quite debilitated. They are only barely clothed, despite the cold conditions. Occasionally, members of the community come to stare at you, as if you are an animal in a zoo.

Today, such scenes are considered unthinkable. Mental health treatment is viewed as part of the holistic care of an individual, and there are laws regulating consent and appropriate treatment conditions. In the 1800s, however, such laws did not exist. A contemporary of the time, advocate Dorothea Dix, aimed to better conditions by petitioning the federal government for more funding.

In this Discussion, you compare mental health treatment in the time of Dorothea Dix to current treatment.



Describe two ways individuals living with a mental illness in the mid- to late-1800s were treated.
Identify a mental health program that exists in society today. Explain the mission and population served.
Compare the contemporary program’s perspective on mental health to that of the Dorothea Dix era.


Stern, M.J., & Axinn, J. (2018). Social welfare: A history of American response to need (9th ed.). Pearson Education.
Chapter 4, “The Civil War and After” (pp.77-83)

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