AUGUST 21, 1957
HYDE PARK—One of the great problems in this country is the care of the mentally ill.
The Mental Hospital Guild, Inc., which works with the patients of the Brooklyn, N.Y., State Hospital, has written me of an experiment it is making in the rehabilitation of these patients. After the new tranquilizing drugs had been administered to the patients, the guild undertook to transport 350 of them to Cunningham Park in Queens, New York, for a day's outing and picnic recently.
Individual box lunches were served, with ice cream and plenty of soft drinks distributed by members of the guild and hospital staff. The guild furnished a band and the recreation department leaders led the patients in community singing. There was dancing as well as supervised games.
A casual passerby might have thought this was just another group picnic, but to the hospital patients it meant far more than that. Some of them had not been outside of the hospital grounds in years.
On the return trip, members of the guild, who had undertaken this experiment with some misgivings, looked at the faces of the happy patients and decided to make this one of their annual projects.
There are 4,000 patients in Brooklyn State Hospital and many of them would be practically forgotten if the guild did not carry out regular projects there throughout the year. The guild appreciates—as many people have come to do—the value of music in the rehabilitation of mental patients and so has done much to bring music into the hospital.
The experiment of the outdoor excursion may be something which could and should be copied by hospitals in other parts of the country.
Herschel Alt, executive director of the Jewish Board of Guardians, has sent me a paper he wrote after visiting last year in Russia, where he was given every opportunity to see what work was being done there in mental health, particularly in the field of child care, in which he is interested.
He found that the Russians lay much stress on child care and claim they have less trouble with emotional disturbances in children than we have in the United States.
One other interested traveler, who studied this subject carefully in Russia because of a lifelong interest in it in this country, told me that she wondered whether the fact that the Soviet Union families live in such close quarters means that a child is never really left alone.
If the parents have to go out and shop, they might be forced to queue up for hours. But the child always is left with someone else because two to four families always share an apartment. There really is no time when a child feels alone. Someone always is there to love him, giving him a sense of security.
The lack of privacy might be a drawback later in the child's life, we feel, but perhaps the security given them in the early years of life helps them through later difficulties.
I shall be interested in any information on this subject I can get while I am in Russia.