Bedlam: The Epidemic of Broken Minds

Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded… Fernald State School


If your mind breaks, what will happen to you?  What could happen to you?

Right now it’s estimated 1 in 4 persons locked in US jails are considered mentally ill. (Mental illness, aka mental health disorders, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples: depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.)

Did you know that any new facility built to house mentally ill patients can only have 16 beds?

Did you know people who experience a serious mental health crisis usually end up in the emergency room or jail.

What’s happened to health care for the mind? Hundreds of psychiatric institutions opened between the mid-1800s and the 1910s.  Prior to the 19th century there was little distinction between lunatic asylums (primitive mental-health facilities) or poorhouses or jails.  Those unable to fit into society were shut away in these squalid facilities, sometimes for their entire lives. [look at old facilities here:]

Did you know:  Best known as a tireless advocate for psychiatric care for the poor and disenfranchised, Dorothea Dix (above) is chiefly responsible for the mass construction of state mental hospitals in the U.S. in the 1800s. Waves of immigration from Ireland, Germany, and Italy led to rapid population growth, prompting a greater need for appropriate medical and psychiatric treatment. Dix, a hero in the field of social work, cited the mental health of the citizenry to be of vital importance to the state. The American mental asylum was born.

Soon came the Kirkbride Plan ….a humane approach… Open buildings and rehabilitative programs involving art, farming, and therapy improved the lives of the individuals with mental illness who lived at one of the rash of new hospitals that opened in the late 1800s.

Then the first major new story about horrific mental institutions warehousing people ran in 1946.  Here is an interesting link

Did you know almost all mental institutions are closed?  By the late 50s and 60s, new drugs took their place.

Near where I live now: Northampton State Hospital constructed in 1856, operated until 1993.

Near where I used to live:  Originally established as Norwich State Hospital for the Insane and later shortened to Norwich Hospital, was a psychiatric hospital that is located in Preston and Norwich, Connecticut. It opened its doors in October 1904 and it remained operational until October 10, 1996. I remember hearing stories that when it closed, people were found wandering the streets in their hospital gowns.

Fast forward to 2020:  “You can’t get well in a (jail) cell…” – Patrisse Cullors, from the Dec. 27 interview on Democracy Now

The new documentary BEDLAM will air on April 13, 2020 on Independent Lens on PBS.

Watch this interview.


Built in 1888 the Fernald State School grew to have one of the most despicable reputations for facilities of its kind in the country with its eugenics obsessed warden and illegal radiation testing, but it is still in operation today as the oldest state run mental health facility in the country. And it actually needs help.

Originally operated as the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded, the mental institution was later named after its third superintendent, Walter E. Fernald.  Fernald was a proud advocate of the eugenics movement, believing that the best way to improve society and the general human race was to separate unwanted and inferior people so they could not breed. While on paper this philosophy was applied only to the mentally-handicapped, Fernald began taking in perfectly capable patients who were simply poor or unwanted. It has been estimated as many as half of Fernald’s patients were of normal intelligence.

The hospital was a sprawling facility sitting on 186 acres and featuring its own power plant and multiple buildings. Despite its size, basic conditions at the center were notably inadequate with overstuffed dorms, widespread squalor, and multiple reports of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the staff. Things got even more troubling in the 1940s and 50s when the semi-secret radiation tests began. Overseen by researchers from Harvard and MIT and with funding from the Quaker Oats company, the inmates were systematically exposed to small doses of radiation and their absorption of the toxic energy was monitored.  The inmates, mentally deficient or no, were incentivized to join a “Science Club” in which they were offered parties, trips to baseball games, and extra portions of food.  Then they were injected with radioactive chemicals. To be fair, this nightmare scenario was not completely devoid of consent from the patients’ guardians, although most reports agree that it was less than informed.

Why am I writing about this?  Suicides rates are exploding…

There is a growing madness in the world.

On January 4, my adoptee friend Patrick died of an overdose in San Diego.  I spoke to him last year when our friend Karen Vigneault died.  We cried together. Patrick, an Alaskan Native adoptee, told his story in the anthology Called Home: The RoadMap.  Karen’s unexpected death was from deteriorating health conditions.  And he was very close to her, too.  Now he’s dead.

Acclaimed Inuk singer Kelly Fraser struggled with childhood trauma, racism and cyber-bullying throughout her life, her family says.  Kelly Fraser spoke openly about her personal traumas and channelled her pain to help others before she died by suicide at age 26 on Christmas Eve, her family said in a statement.

Source: Inuk singer Kelly Fraser died by suicide amid ‘hard’ fight with PTSD, family says |

Since I am writing about John Trudell, I found what he said to be connected:

The genocide of civilization is there to erase (our ancestral) memory we don’t remember we’re human beings anymore. That’s why there’s all the false prides. That’s why there’s the drug use, the alcoholism. Those are symptoms of it.  It’s the genocide itself.  It’s denied itself.  It’s the genocide that’s created these conditions. We’ve forgotten that we’re human beings, and we’re passing this diseased perception of reality amongst ourselves.  We really need to look at who we are.  It’s not enough to say that ‘I’m a traditionalist.’ It’s not enough to say ‘I can speak the language.’ It’s not enough to say ‘We’re all about respect.’  It’s not enough anymore.  We have to understand what we’re saying. We have to understand tradition, culture, sharing, love.  That’s the way it was a long time ago. That was our (human) way of life.

I thought about this a long time:

Our intelligence is a very sacred power. Our intelligence (which is our defense) was manipulated for two or three thousand years to create behavior that has resulted in complete genocide against the Earth.  We’re watching profiteers and governments killing the planet.

As a result of feeling powerless to change anything, we are truly losing our footing as to what it means to be human. There is no such thing as “race” – we are all human, all connected, all relatives, all of us. RACE was created to divide us, and divide us it has.

In every speech, John found poetic precision to describe these conditions, telling us how we could dismantle and handle their oppression, if we could be clear, coherent, calm, and see what the conditions are and how governments use a playbook of distraction, creating fear and chaos, going on right now.

(From John’s poem NEVER TOO LOUDLY, in Lines from the Mined Mind: The Words of John Trudell)

John discoveries became our discoveries.  A mining operation: that is what John called it.  He didn’t just mean corporations digging diamonds and ore, or oil extractions and new pipelines on our reservations.  He meant mining us, mining us humans.  Imagine human emotion as a power supply.  We are food.  We are a battery.  People who become aware of this mining do not allow persecution to create strong emotions.  His words: “Protect your spirit because you are in the place where spirits get eaten.”  This predator needs and feeds off human suffering.

They cause it.


More Reading:

Suicide rates by Country

How The Loss Of U.S. Psychiatric Hospitals Led To A Mental Health Crisis

A History of Mental Institutions in the United States

Mental Illness Is On the Rise in the U.S. for a Frustrating Reason

1-800- 273- TALK

If you lost someone and want to tell me about it:


  1. “You got innocent men in jail,
    your insane asylums are filled
    You got unrighteous doctors dealing drugs that’ll never cure
    your ills.
    When you gonna wake up,
    when you gonna wake up
    When you gonna wake up strengthen the things that remain ?”
    ~ Bob Dylan

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Powerful writing about a terrifying topic. It is horrible how suicide has become such an epidemic, and you have made a great link between suicide and feeling powerless in our society. It’s only getting worse so we absolutely do need to find ways to reconnect and counter those feelings.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sad indeed. So many parallels with the situation here, and not just the familiar names. (Norwich is the nearest city to Beetley)
    Most of our mental health facilities were closed down by Margaret Thatcher, in the 1980s. Instead, they offered ‘care in the community’, literally throwing disturbed people back out into a society they no longer understood, and having to cope on their own, living alone, with the occasional visit from a mobile ‘support worker’ whoo usually had an unmanageable case-load.
    The result was a dramatic increase in suicides, almost immediately. I was an EMT when this happened, and in just ONE week, I attended six suicides. Three by jumping from a high building, one by jumping under a train, one by drug overdose, and another by cutting their own throat.
    As well as that, incidents involving the police jumped by over 50%, with depressed people calling for help, and violent people making random attacks on strangers.
    In 2020, we now have many hospital beds. care-home rooms, police cells, and prison cells occupied by people who were formerly resident in mental health facilities. And the situation gets worse year on year.
    Best wishes, Pete.


    • Oh Pete, I am truly sorry for what you had to do in the line of work, what you saw, and experienced. But we have a world problem now and we need solutions. I hope this post makes people think about it, and then do something. I am so grateful we are friends.


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