This is some interesting reading from Susannah Cahalan related to the closing of mental hospitals in the US. I already knew from my own reading that the closing, while supposedly meant to help patients who were being mistreated in some of those hospitals, created a much worse problem because they were released to be treated by programs that still don’t exist. But, is it possible that release was predicated on a study that wasn’t accurate to begin with?
“In 1973, Rosenhan published the paper “On Being Sane in Insane Places” in the prestigious journal Science, and it was a sensation. The study, in which eight healthy volunteers went undercover as “pseudopatients” in 12 psychiatric hospitals across the country, discovered harrowing conditions that led to national outrage. His findings helped expedite the widespread closure of psychiatric institutions across the country, changing mental-health care in the US forever.
Fifty years later, I tried to find out how Rosenhan had convinced his subjects to go undercover as psychiatric patients and discovered a whole lot more. Yes, Rosenhan had charm. He had charisma. He had chutzpah to spare. And, as I eventually uncovered, he was also not what he appeared to be.”
Go read the whole article, it’s pretty fascinating, and Susannah also has an upcoming book on the subject. Did it actually go down the way she claims? Was he actually just making stuff up to prove something he already thought? I don’t know. It’s possible he was. What we do know is that by not leaving enough information behind for anyone to replicate his results, it was already bad science. It’s already a questionable study. Not because there weren’t, and still aren’t, mistreated patients, but because the solution to that problem dictated by his study was the close them all, immediately. We are still dealing with the horrible results of that decision, countless patients with no services to treat them and no where to go but the streets. Had more studies been done, and more careful thought put into where the problems were and how to solve them, maybe we could have come up with something different.
But we are here now. What are we going to do about it?