Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane, Philadelphia, PA, 1933.
Photo:Library of Congress
Digital ID pa1042

Mental Health 


Although mental health and mental illness are related, they represent different psychological states.

Mental health isa state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” It is estimated that only about 17% of U.S adults are considered to be in a state of optimal mental health. There is emerging evidence that positive mental health is associated with improved health outcomes.

Mental illness is defined as “collectively all diagnosable mental disorders” or “health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.” Depression is the most common type of mental illness, affecting more than 26% of the U.S. adult population. It has been estimated that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world, trailing only ischemic heart disease. Source: Centers for Disease Control:


  • A Problem as Old as the Nation - A History of American Substance AbuseDrugs, drug addicts, and what the state should do about the problem is a controversial issue even today. Many people feel indignant about the spending of taxpayer’s dollars upon people who – as they see it – deliberately induced their need for such bailouts. This is not a new issue. It has simmered in the background ever since substance abuse was first recognized as a problem. A short look at the history of drug abuse in America and the growth of social problems and solutions around it may, however, provide a sense of context through which the problems may be seen more clearly.
  • Beers, Clifford WhittinghamThis entry is about Clifford Whittingham Beers, the founder of Mental Health America and a pioneer in advocating for improved treatment of mental illness. It was excerpted from the booklet “Clifford W. Beers: The Founding of Mental Health 1908-1935” produced by The Human Spirit Initiative, an organization with a mission to inspire people to desire to make a difference and then act on it. Note: Michael Gray, working with Ted Deutsch, Deutsch Communications Group authored the narrative from which this entry is taken.
  • Care Of The Insane In New York (1736 - 1912)In the year 1736 a building known as the “Publick Workhouse and House of Corrections of the City of New York” was built on the site where the City Hall now stands, and under its roof the insane were confined, together with the unruly, the destitute, the aged and the infirm. In the description of its interior allusion is made to a strong room or cage for the refractory on the west side of the cellar. A newspaper of the year 1776 contains mention of an order from some one in authority whereby five or six English soldiers were sent to convey a crazy woman to the workhouse.
  • Civilian Public ServiceAs the war progressed, a critical shortage of workers in psychiatric hospitals developed, because staff had left for better paying jobs with fewer hours and improved working conditions. For example, understaffed wards at Philadelphia State Hospital had one attendant member for 300 patients,the minimum ratio being 10:1. The government balked at initial requests that CPS workers have these positions, believing it better to keep the men segregated in the rural camps to prevent the spread of their philosophy.
  • Education For Community Mental Health Practice: Problems And ProspectsThe problem of professional education for community mental health practice is one that poses a number of intricate questions for both educators and practitioners. The complexity and size of the mental health problem and the growing support for mental health programs throughout the country together indicate that the field of social work must make a major effort to relate soundly to the educational needs in this field. The work of the Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Mental Health clearly indicates the need for useful data on which to assess and evaluate the current and future directions of mental health programs. There is a strong feeling among those who have some awareness of where we now stand that current efforts in mental health fall far short of meeting the vast needs. There is continued questioning of the nature and content of service available and there is a high degree of curiosity about the effectiveness of current services. We now face the disconcerting fact that we may not really be meeting these needs just by increasing the number of known and existing services; rather the implication of present-day thinking is that we need to bring about some radical changes in our working philosophy and in our practice if we are to make any realistic impression on mental health problems.
  • Meeting The Manpower Crisis In Staffing The Mental Health Facilities: The Role Of The Federal Government It seems inappropriate to consider the “manpower crisis” only in terms of numbers of social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, and nurses. Rather, it seems more important to discuss the use which is made of these professions in the structure of mental health programs as they function today and as they may function in the future. The program of the National Institute of Mental Health has been oriented from the first to the problem of increasing the quality and the quantity of trained personnel in the United States. The purpose of the Mental Health Act of 1946 was explicit on this point. In providing funds for increased support for training, the extension of research, and for expansion of services throughout the United States, the major decisions have been based on the central objective of ultimate provision of complete coverage for the total population in terms of mental health diagnostic and treatment facilities.
  • Mental Health America - OriginsIn 1908, Clifford Whittingham Beers published his autobiography “A Mind That Found Itself.” The publication chronicled his struggle with mental illness and the shameful state of mental health care in America. In the first page of his book, Beers reveals why he wrote the book: "...I am not telling the story of my life just to write a book. I tell it because it seems my plain duty to do so. A narrow escape from death and a seemingly miraculous return to health after an apparently fatal illness are enough to make a man ask himself: For what purpose was my life spared? That question I have asked myself, and this book is, in part, an answer...."
  • Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital: New York - 1891It is claimed by the friends of the Middletown State Hospital that medical liberty has been encroached upon by the passage of the State Care act. It is difficult, however, to see wherein this effect has been produced. The free and unrestricted right of the Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital to give homeopathic treatment has not been abridged in any manner, nor, so far as it is known, is it claimed to have been abridged. But while by the passage of the bill under discussion this liberty demanded in the name of homeopathic profession will have been extended even further than as it was held before the State Care act became law, an equal measure of the same liberty is practically denied to all other schools of medicine.
  • Scientific Charity Movement and Charity Organization Societies“Scientific charity built on Americans’ notion of self-reliance, limited government, and economic freedom. Proponents of scientific charity shared the poorhouse advocates’ goals of cutting relief expenses and reducing the number of able-bodied who were receiving assistance, as well as the moral reformers’ goal of uplifting people from poverty through discipline and religious education via private charity. In this model, individuals responded to charity and the government stayed out of the economic sphere.
  • Social Work and Aftercare of the Mentally Ill in Maryland"The question of affording proper care for patients discharged from hospitals for the insane is by no means a new one. The best and most satisfactory method of administering this aid has not yet been entirely decided…" (Arthur P. Herring, Secretary of the Maryland Lunacy Commission, September 14, 1910).
  • The Place Of Mental Health Clinics In Settlements And Neighborhood HousesThe settlement psychiatric clinic is significantly different from that in any other setting. It not only offers a more broadly based service in prevention and treatment, but it is the one place where the clinic has the opportunity to work with the total individual in his total situation – a basic treatment principle.Also, the services are less costly. There is practical economy in energy, time and money in being able to effect such a highly coordinated on-the-spot service within the physical setup of an established agency, already known, accepted and appreciated for the constructive services it gives.
  • Willard, Sylvester D.The he most important public enterprise in which Dr. Willard engaged was the establishment of an institution for the relief of the chronic insane. His mind had been directed to this subject for a considerable time, and he had collected a vast amount of information bearing upon it, which he had embodied in a luminous and elaborate report. That report had met with a most respectful attention from the Legislature, and everything indicated the speedy carrying out of the plan which he had proposed, when Dr. Willard found that his days of activity on earth were numbered. The Willard Asylum for the Insane, so named as a memorial of him, has been established since his decease.