Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Booster Shots: Mental illness: 'No one much cares'

2:57 PM, September 30, 2008
-- Susan Brink

When I was in high school, I volunteered at the Chicago State Hospital. This was back in the days before public policy turned to de-institutionalization, releasing people who were mentally ill to care in so-Cuckoo2called community programs -- which for the most part didn't actually materialize. It was also before the days of major pharmaceutical breakthroughs to help control such illnesses as depression, manic-depression and schizophrenia.

Since 1869, the hospital, also known as the Dunning Asylum, had been home to the indigent, the tubercular and the insane of Cook County, Illinois. What I remember most about my volunteer effort in the late 1960s was the smell of the place -- the overwhelming stench of human waste in the crowded day rooms.

The U.S. doesn't have that particular nightmare of care anymore, having discharged many of those patients to land in the Skid Rows of urban centers. But Eugene Richards, whose credentials include a degree in journalism, a stint as a VISTA volunteer, and numerous photography awards and honors for his books and freelance editorial photographs, has found international versions of how the world still treats those with mental illness.

His new book, "A Procession of Them," is not yet released, but can be pre-ordered on Working as a journalist and as a volunteer for the human-rights group Mental Disability Rights International, Richards took pictures of institutionalized people in Mexico, Argentina, Armenia, Hungary and Kosovo. He found their lives a living hell, and concludes, as the headline says, that no one cares. And, he says in the DVD film accompanying the book, "it's as if there is a kind of worldwide agreement that once people are classified as mentally ill or mentally retarded, you're free to do to them what you want."

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