“Staunton—Treatment of Mental Illness”

“Staunton—Treatment of Mental Illness”

“Staunton—Treatment of Mental Illness”

(This is a condensation of an article written for the church papers by Harry Hertzler of the Staunton, Virginia hospital unit.)

Nineteen volunteers for state hospital work left Grottoes, August 19, 1942 to take up their duties at the Western State Hospital in Staunton, Virginia. Within a few days, all but a few of us were placed as attendants on the hospital wards in charge of the patients, while a few have outside maintenance jobs.

To understand the nature of our work, it is necessary to know a little about the patients. Here we find an endless variety of minds in different stages of depreciation. Voices call to some from the air, noises and bright colors annoy many, trivial incidents send some into uproarious laughter, many seem unable to retain their thoughts, but send them forth continually in all sorts of vile and abusive language, and others just sit mute all day. Inherited mental weakness, worry, accidents, disease are responsible for their condition. Undoubtedly, sinful living is the cause of the condition of a very large number of those with whom we work.

We can think of the patients as being divided into three main classes, according to the severity of their afflictions and their ability to adjust themselves to normal living. First are those who with proper care and treatment can be returned to their homes as useful members. Among these are alcoholics, mild syphilitics, and many with only mild or temporary derangement. While here many of them are employed doing much of the necessary work and even taking positions of responsibility. The second group, being unable to adjust themselves to home conditions, nevertheless can work under supervision in the orchard, dairy, kitchen, grounds, and on the wards as valuable assistants in keeping the administration of the hospital running smoothly. One, if let go, might forget where he was going and wander absent-mindedly way, another might follow the imaginary voices calling him, another make himself a general nuisance by petty thievery, and general irresponsibility, and still another endanger others in sudden fits of anger. The third class of patients is the deteriorating class, those who are gradually on the decline and must be cared for as they slip downward. Most of these know enough to feed themselves, go to bed, get up, and take orders, many have lost their habits of personal care, and many are bedfast.

To see the things that a disordered mind will do to a man, to hear the stories and imagined grievances of the patients, and to study their reactions to different kinds of treatment is an education in human nature. Patience is often tried, and a generous store of this virtue will not come amiss in treatment of the patients. One patient, who ordinarily would come when I called him, ignored and fought me off one morning. In order to do with him what I wanted, it was necessary to pin his arms to his sides. Later, I learned he had been struck by another patient a few minutes previously.

Our work day is fourteen hours long with only time enough to eat our meals. Every three or four days we have from 1:30 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. free. With a small group here we cannot expect to enjoy the advantages of group gatherings such as Sunday morning and evening services, mid-week prayer meetings, evening study classes, outdoor work and recreation, and the quietness and peace of the woods and mountains such as we enjoyed at our former camp. Consequently, our own private devotions become much more important as a means of individual spiritual health, and inner quietness and peace must offset the confusion and unrest around us.

It is important to us as C.O.’s that we realize fully our profession of nonresistance is only one part of a fully rounded out Christian life, and that a positive and forceful peace testimony is dependent upon a real Christian experience. Each day we are able to give witness to our faith in our work and in our relationships with the 3,000 in the hospital and 15,000 in the near-by town. The bowed head at meal-time, courtesy and politeness with fellow employees, kindness to patients, and a constant living testimony all give silent witness to those around us.

‘Warn the unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.’ This, in a few words, sums up our work with its many opportunities for service to others. These are among the ‘sick and the afflicted and the oppressed everywhere’ that we so often, perhaps thoughtlessly and mechanically, pray for the Lord to bless. Are we not the means of His blessing to others? Our prayer is that we may use every opportunity to be a real blessing and service to others in our work here.


-Taken from C.P.S. Newsletter. Vol. I, No. 12. Published by Mennonite Central Committee. February 26, 1943. In "Publications, MCC Bulletin, later CPS Bulletin. Vol. 1-6, 1942-1947," folder 6/12, series IX-13-1. MCC Records Collection, Akron, PA.