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Letters to the Editor
What's Old Is New Again
Psychiatric News
Volume 43 Number 13 page 25-25

So working with farm animals can be beneficial to patients, as stated in the May 16 issue? What a revolutionary "discovery."

For many years in this country, and as late as the 1960s, mental hospitals in Wisconsin and many other states had farm operations, as well as gardens and orchards, as part of their operations. Here in Wisconsin, long-term patients who loved farming helped tend the herds and worked in the creamery. Women chatted, voluntarily and cheerfully, in the paring room and bakery. These were vocations—farming and homemaking—from which many patients came and of which they were very proud. These duties gave them a purpose, some productivity, and pride.

Along came the age of deinstitutional enlightenment. The civil liberties people cried "exploitation." The barns were dismantled, the gardens plowed under, and the orchards cut down. "Industrial therapy" didn't include these mundane duties. The patients were sent" home" to often nonexistent community programs. Now many patients get their heat from a steam grate and sleep under a bridge. Prisons have become the nation's largest repository of mentally ill individuals. Random violence and panhandling on the street give psychosis, once again, a bad name.

Just as we have now "discovered" that tending animals can be therapeutic for some patients, someone will "discover" that mental hospitals, for some long-term patients, are necessary and the best option. And that they might even suggest, as was the case in earlier times, that those hospitals should be rural and remote, away from the hustle and bustle and commotion, near blooming and growing things, a place to restore the spirit of people broken on the wheels of living. And then we will, once again, as in earlier times, decide that jails and prisons, and alleys and bridges, are not the best places for sick individuals who really deserve a hospital rather than a cell.

Who knows? Maybe the hospital will even have a farm, animals, gardens, and orchards because someone, in 2008, has discovered they can be helpful.

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