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Clifford Beers

Published under category: Academic Paper Writing | 2017-12-05 23:06:37 UTC

Context: Biographies

Clifford Beers was born in 1876 in Connecticut to a family with mental health problems among the children. Clifford was himself hospitalized early for mental health issues. His siblings died early of mental illness, one at infancy and the other in his teenage. As a young man, he was incarcerated in a mental institution for various mental health problems. Beers was in and out of mental institutions throughout his life. However, he was a functional person and attended school at Yale and graduated. In 1900s, Beers suffered mental health problems and was incarcerated in a mental health care institution. His experience at the hands of healthcare workers led him to publish “A Mind that Found Itself” in 1908. In the next year, he founded the “National Committee for Mental hygiene”. Through his literacy work as well as activism, Beers started a revolution in mental health care, to change the manner of treatment of the mentally ill. Apart from his activism he started an outpatient mental health clinic, a first of its kind in the United States. Clifford Beers died in July 9, 1943, having changed the way mental illness was viewed as well as the approach to treatment of the mentally ill.

Clifford Beers was born during a time when mental health and psychology in general was not developed enough to provide reasonable treatment of mental illness. In particular, mental health issues during Beers youth were treated as a matter of mystery. Psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were still early in their careers when Beers was confined to mental health institutions as a young man. Similarly, mental health institutions were equally inept. The mentally ill were confined in asylums as inmates would be confined in a prison (Tudor, 1999). Worse even, uncooperative behavior as is experienced with the mentally ill would then be countered with forceful restraint as well as crude methods of treatment. Sometimes patients would be restrained to bed to avoid their violent psychosis. However, most of “treatment” involved seclusion from the larger society so as not to cause what was seen as disturbance by the public and exorcism (Tudor, 1999). Drug treatment of the mentally ill had not begun until 1930s and drug therapies in early 20th century amounted to random experimentation. Beers efforts to have mental health patients treated better in the mental institutions, which had been reduced to simple asylums where the mentally ill would be confined.

Clifford Beers made his first contribution in his autobiography, “A Mind that Found Itself”, Clifford provides a picture of mental illness from the perspective of the ill and the affected families. He gives an account of his experience of his mentally affected brother’s treatment and death. While he understood that his brother was sick, he also began realizing that he had an illness early (Peterson, 1982).  In his narration of how his brother had been treated until his death, Beers exposes the crude methods of treatment and the significant amount of experimentation and guesswork involved in diagnosis and treatment. He details his treatment at a mental health institution and describes how the owner of the institution would employ a tramp as a nurse (Beers, 1908). Further, he gives the account of the illness and death of a patient in the care of the tramp-turned-nurse. The owner of the institution would lament that the death had cost him the best paying patient. Despite all the money that would be paid to mental health care institutions, patients would be neglected and mistreated because of their mental incapacity as well the failure of health care workers to understand mental illness. In account of his own treatment, Beers writes of being restrained using methods similar to ones used during inquisition. This account of mental health care would play a significant role in the reform of the sector.

 In “A Mind that Found Itself”, Beers demonstrates that it is possible for mentally ill patients to communicate to mental health care workers as well as their relatives. Beers writes of his reflections about his own illness. He says, “The putting on of the muff was the most humiliating incident of my life. […] I resisted weakly, and, after the muff was adjusted and locked, for the first time since my mental collapse I wept” (Beers, 1908). This is a description of the health care workers at a private institution restraining him to keep him from walking away or attempting something as severe as suicide. Descriptions of his despair and frustration with the methods of treatment expose mental health patients as humans that could perceive and deduce the gravity and the impact of the conduct of their attendants. During Beers’ time mental health patients were viewed as people who did not have a meaningful thought process, and could not communicate any believable message (Switzer, 2003). His work in the book serves to provide the view of a patient suffering severe mental illness. Beers also reveals that patients were viewed as miscreants who were determined to disobey and cause chaos. He says of the restraining tool at the private hospital, “Frequently it was used as a means of discipline on account of supposed stubborn disobedience” (Beers, 1908). This statement shows that mental illness was often viewed as deliberate disobedience, liable to criminal punishment. Through his book, beers brought awareness about the consciousness of the mentally ill and their ability to perceive injustices against them.

At the times Beers was incarcerated in mental asylums, there were no support systems for the mentally ill. It had not been noticed, or even thought to be improper, that the mentally ill were ill treated in mental health institutions. Even though maltreatment of the mentally ill had gone on for centuries, no one had bothered instigate a reform process through legislation or even activism. In 1908, Beers founded the Connecticut Society for Mental Hygiene. A year later he started the “National Committee for Mental Hygiene”, organizations that have grown and thrived till today (Taylor, 2009). These institutions started to advocate for reform of treatment of mental health patients. This is the first proactive measure towards true reform in the mental health sector in the United States. These contributions to the American society stand out since they were not began as products of charity, but as a resolve of a person who had gone through a problem and decided to solve it or at least start a process of solving it. It is a peculiar fact that the movement for reform had to be started not by a doctor or a charitable able person, but a mentally ill person. One among the mentally ill stood to champion for their fair treatment.

Clifford Beers began the movement that changed the perception of mental health care from that of a fringe profession of restraining freaks to a mainstream medical practice where patients are treated as suffering from illness like any other. Prior to his activism and that of others, working in mental asylums, even as a doctor, was not seen as medical practice, but as an art of restraining the mentally ill. Even though a number of mental illnesses are incurable to date, Beers began the movement that would rally for respect of mental health care practice by educating people that mental illness could be treated using better approaches to produce better outcomes. Denial that existed in society and the reluctance that the society had in dealing with the problems gradually subsided. Organizations by Beers as well as his book came at a time when psychology and psychiatry began undergoing changes, especially with the first and second world wars (Taylor, 2009). Psychiatry grew and drug treatment and humane therapies for patients commenced in the 1930s, taking over from the crude methods of the past. As the number of the mentally ill rose, his brainchild was effective in promoting better treatment of the patients and applications of reasonable treatment methods. The autobiography by Beers is still popular reading that is reputed to have influenced mental healthcare positively.

Clifford Beers was an influential mental health patient, sufferer of the consequences of mental illness both as a patient and as a relative of a patient, an author, and a reformer of mental healthcare sector. He wrote an autobiography exposing inhumane treatment of the mentally ill as well as his experiences as a mental health patient. His book gives an insight into the thoughts and perceptions of a mentally ill person, revealing the sensitivity and the intellect in some of the patients. Through his writing, it was revealed that mentally ill patients had the capacity to understand injustice as well as communicate. In addition, he revealed that mentally ill patients were sometimes helplessly bound by their attendants as much as they were bound by their illness. He started the first movements to reform the mental healthcare sector in a time when the mentally ill were ignored or confined to mental asylums to keep them away from the wider society. Beers, a mentally ill person, exceptionally instigated and steamrolled reform at a time when mental ally ill people faced insurmountable difficulties, and support framework was nonexistent.















Beers, C. (1908). A Mind That Found Itself.

Gray, M. (2012). Clifford Beers: Mental Health America, 1908-1935.

Peterson, D. (1982). A mad peoples history of madness. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Switzer, J. V. (2003). Disabled rights: American disability policy and the fight for equality. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Taylor, S. J. (2009). Acts of conscience: World War II, mental institutions, and religious objectors. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Tudor, K. (1999). Mental health promotion: paradigms and practice. London: Routledge.



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