A Case of Hysteria

The Cost of Going Crazy in California

The 1950s–1970s saw a dramatic restructuring of California’s approach to treating mental health issues. In years prior, institutions became more and more crowded and fell into disrepair amid rampant stories about the neglect and abuse of patients. To address the crisis, various legislative reforms, such as the 1957 Short-Doyle Act (revised in 1968), were enacted that decentralized treatment from large, regional hospitals to local outpatient clinics. This new strategy largely hinged on the recent availability of anti-psychotic drugs like Thorazine, which ostensibly would calm people with mental illness enough so they could function in society. However, with the benefit of hindsight it’s clear the concept of “community- based care” was misguided, relying far too heavily on drugs as a magical cure-all to combat a complex issue. Additionally, budget cuts in the early 1980s meant community fixtures like the Resthaven Psychiatric Hospital and Mental Health Center in downtown Los Angeles struggled to keep their doors open. Today, many people with mental illness fall short of getting the assistance they need since California state mental hospitals now mainly serve patients committed by the judicial system.

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