The September/October 1964 issue of Fact magazine was dedicated to the then Republican nominee for president, Barry Goldwater, and his fitness for office. One of the founders of Fact, Ralph Ginzburg, had sent out a survey to over 12,000 psychiatrists asking a single question: “Do you believe Barry Goldwater is psychologically fit to serve as President of the United States?” Only about 2,400 responses were received, and about half of the responses indicated that Goldwater was not psychologically fit to be president. The headline of that issue of Fact read: “1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit to be President!”
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.