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Facts of Medicine; Mental Health

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What is mental disease? First, it includes those people in institutions. Operationally, it begins at the point where a person’s behavior interferes with his ability to do his job, and get along with his family, friends, co-workers; does so seriously enough so that these people, like his co-workers, feel they cannot carry on. Between mental disease and normalcy, there is not a very clear line. Mental disease is a tremendously big problem, but its prevalence is difficult to measure. No surveys exist. Need to develop indices. For example, 45% of all hospital beds are occupied by those with mental disease. But relatively few of those admitted to hospitals have mental disease compared to other diseases: 325,000 vs. 19.5 million. Although we don’t know the average stay in mental hospitals, some are quite short, but a minority stay for long periods as chronic patients. Another way of measuring disease prevalence: of those rejected for medical reasons from military service during World War II, 18% were because of mental disease. Currently, mental hospital admissions are increasing, but this may mean we are more willing to treat people. Mental disease is, like heart disease, actually a group of diseases. Presently, diseases of senility are increasing because population is aging, syphilitic diseases declining because of penicillin. Treatment? Physicians can treat and cure syphilis and pellagra. Psychiatrists can treat psychoses and psychoneuroses, but there is no evidence that they have cured any of these diseases. Psychiatry relieves symptoms. Shock treatment no longer used except in the instance of a certain type of depression. Psychosurgery—lobotomy—produced useful information about mental disease, but it has not cured individuals. Tranquilizing drugs make it easier to manage patients. They put a cover over the situation. People are put into institutions because they interfere with ways of living. We do it a lot. Perhaps some day we can treat more with mental illness on an ambulatory basis, as in some other countries. Treatment for mental diseases represents the best guess a psychiatrist has, but scientific data to support it is sparse.; like treatment of infectious diseases prior to Pasteur and germ theory. Mental health clinics, currently gaining in importance, are valuable in some ways, not in others. No evidence that particular treatment for acute problem in clinics will prevent future mental disease. Need experimental work to test current methods of treatment. Gives examples. Should we have any hope of progress? Yes. Indications: We are finding how the brain uses energy. May be differences in brain energy between well and sick. There is also ongoing work on brain chemistry work, memory and studies of heredity. Summary and select metadata for this record was submitted by Dr. Gerald Oppenheimer. Parker Wheatley and David D. Rutstein talk about mental health.

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Facts of Medicine
Mental Health
Series Description

Dr. David R. Rutstein, Professor of Preventive Medicine, Harvard University examines "vital problems in the fields of medicine and community health... " Series ran weekly for 40 weeks beginning on 10/6/1955. First program examined "The Salk Polio Vaccine." Series release date: 1955

Program Description

Interviewer Parker Wheatley in conversation with David D. Rutstein about: what constitutes a mental disease; whether or not there has been progress in treating mental disease; controlling versus curing mental disease; how a person can tell whether or not he needs help; and preventing mental disease.

Series description: Dr. David R. Rutstein, Professor of Preventive Medicine, Harvard University examines "vital problems in the fields of medicine and community health... " Series ran weekly for 40 weeks beginning on 10/6/1955. First program examined "The Salk Polio Vaccine."



Asset Type

Broadcast program

Media Type


Mental Disease
Evaluation of treatment
Brain Studies
Wheatley, Parker, 1906-1999
Rutstein, David
Mental Health
Measurement of preMeasurement of Prevalence of Treated Cases
Rutstein, David (Host)
Wheatley, Parker, 1906-1999 (Host)
Radar, Paul (Director)
Publication Information
Presented by the Harvard Medical Library and the WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “Facts of Medicine; Mental Health,” 06/14/1956, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed May 26, 2019, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_7E2F3762C2E54914BD41D38EF47CF46A.
MLA: “Facts of Medicine; Mental Health.” 06/14/1956. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. May 26, 2019. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_7E2F3762C2E54914BD41D38EF47CF46A>.
APA: Facts of Medicine; Mental Health. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_7E2F3762C2E54914BD41D38EF47CF46A
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