Monday, May 20, 2013

Deinstitutionalization propaganda from the 1960's.
The author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey, was known for being a nonconformist and part of an evolving counter culture. Many of the reform movements faced throughout history and even still today were first promoted by individuals such as Kesey. The deinstitutionalization movement is no exception. The popularity and massive sales of his novel set in an insane asylum opened the public eyes to something that was very real, but kept very hush-hush.

Although Kesey never explicitly argued for reform or openly promoted deinstitutionalization, his work served as a great piece of propaganda for the movement. As the public read about a subject rarely seen or discussed by media, readers began questioning the reality of what Kesey illustrated. When reports broke that many of the unethical and immoral scenarios that Kesey wrote about were more or less the truth, the public was outraged. Ultimately, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest subtly promoted the push for reform and deinstitutionalization.

Deinstitutionalization was a tough cookie to crack. Not many people knew about what was happening behind the scenes of mental asylums, because they were not committed. The mentally ill in the 1950's were treated as if they were not people but rather vegetables. This is clearly the same relationship that Kesey develops between Ratched and the black boys and the patients. Although the end of the novel does not illustrate what the true goal of deinstitutionalization was, it still pushes the messages that people do not belong in such dehumanizing institutions and that many of them desperately want out.

Chief obviously escaped before deinstitutionalization was in full swing- before he had any hope to get out other than his own actions. The truth is, deinstitutionalization was a very slow and lengthy process. Judge David L. Bazelon, from the Center for Mental Health Law, comments on the stages of development of deinstitutionalization:
In the initial stages, states funded small community pilot programs for the individuals who responded well to antipsychotic medications that were then becoming available. The national deinstitutionalization movement was launched in 1965 through the community mental health centers program. Our efforts with this movement were further fueled by concerns over civil rights and the conditions in institutions. That led to the courts limiting involuntary institutionalization and setting minimum standards for care in institutions. (Bazelon 7).

The deinstitutionalization movement began in the late 1950's and continued on throughout the 1960's. The initial country that began pushing the movement was Russia, with the US being the second to adopt the push for reform. It is considered to be one of the most critical time periods in the history of psychiatry and psychiatric practice. The movement came about as numerous people learned of the horrible practices that were occurring in mental hospitals and asylums across the country. One of these people was Ken Kesey.

Before writing his novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Kesey worked night shifts at a mental asylum. It is there that he received much of his inspiration to write his novel. Kesey drew much of his own experience as being witness to the treatment of the mentally ill to model how the Acutes and the Chronics interacted with Big Nurse Ratched and the faculty members. Kesey hints at many deinstitutionalization true life events throughout his novel, the most important being the fact that one of the hospital doctors spoke poorly of how the patients were treated. With the help of brave doctors who revealed the terrible practices and authors like Ken Kesey who spread the word through his literature, the deinstitutionalization movement became an issue in the forefront of society.