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From the Cuckoo’s Nest to the Jailbird: What’s Happening to the Mentally Ill in America?

The history of mental illness is riddled with what are now horror stories: mental illnesses “treated” by bleeding patients with leeches, dousing them with hot or cold water, or simply putting them to death. From the 1600s to the 1800s in Europe and in the newly established United States, it was common for mentally ill people to be locked away in asylums, sometimes chained to the walls in what were essentially dungeons. Movements in the 1800s by activists like Philippe Pinel in France and Dorothea Dix in the northeastern states of the US helped to change these dungeons into what better resembled hospitals, with more comfortable housing and medical doctors.

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