Nursing Voices

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Crazy Genes

American Humorist and Author, Sam Levenson once said, “Insanity is hereditary; you get it from you children.” It seems as though that Dr. Davenport would agree because his daughter, Elizabeth, is stressing him out and he feels like he is losing his mind. Elizabeth has decided that the frivolous life of a “deb” is not for her, and she has made up her mind to embark on a nursing career. For some reason, Dr. Davenport doesn't want Elizabeth to become a nurse. Maybe he knows that being a nurse is hard work. It looks like Elizabeth is very frustrated about her father's attitude. She thinks that her dad is an idiot. After all, doesn’t he realize that not every girl wants to sit around all day eating chocolate bonbons while waiting for Prince Charming to come sweep her off her feet? I bet Elizabeth wins this argument. She looks like she has spunk, and her friends are backing her up.



Although we know that some mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, may have genetic components, medical science once believed that all mental illnesses were caused by primitive drives related to heredity. In other words, mankind comes from a bad seed. According to the book, Modern Home Medical Adviser: Your Health and How to Preserve It, published in 1935, mothers could avoid raising someone who would become mentally ill by using sound mental hygiene techniques. These techniques included hitting and shaming a child into submission, and telling them that they were going to hell if they are bad. The author said that the child would grow up to be mentally ill if the mother did not use these techniques to suppress her child’s “evil primitive impulses.” According to the author, these impulses were genetically based, and to keep a child from becoming mentally ill as an adult, it was the mother’s duty to turn her child into a quivering psychological mess. I know it doesn't make sense, but I didn't write the book.


Dr. J. H Kellogg, the inventor of cornflakes and the Chief Medical Director of the Battle Creek Sanitarium believed that “bad breeding” played a big part in the development of mental illnesses. In his book, A Thousand Questions Answered, published in 1917, Dr. Kellogg writes, “Mental defectives have increased within the last fifty years at the rate of 900 percent in a century. That is, at the present rate of increase, in one hundred years from the present time, 9 percent of the total population will be insane, idiotic, or imbeciles. Mental defectives now constitute 1 percent of the population. The recognition of a new class of mental defectives, the moron, gives us the key to a large number of social problems and explains the rapid increase of a certain type of criminal of the growing army of ne’er-do-wells. Of all classes of mental defectives this class is by far the most dangerous because they are not easily recognized except by experts, and so left to reproduce and increase without restriction.”



In order to save the human race from mental illness and other social ills, Dr. Kellogg advocated the use of eugenics and euthenics, and he also advocated the use of a eugenics registry in order to keep the “races pure.” Thanks to Dr. Kellogg and his followers, many states tried to pass legislation mandating the sterilization of mentally ill patients and other “undesirables.” That’s code for people of color. The idea was to keep the insanity gene from polluting the general gene pool. After reading his book, I’ll never be able to look at cornflakes the same way again. I'm sticking with Quaker Oatmeal for breakfast.



So much for the good old days of medicine when you could blame someone else for all of your problems. It really isn't your mother's fault.

16 Comments:

Blogger jaz said...

It's insane the way that people have viewed insanity throughout history.

Boy, it sure is great to live in an enlightened age of science... you know, now that everybody has left all that judgement and finger-pointing and shame and blame in the past...

11:03 PM  
Blogger NeoNurseChic said...

While it seems like mental health has a long way to go - in terms of stigma that still hangs around - we sure have come a long way, too. That's like back in the day when women with PMS were put in institutions - or women who wanted to do something other than become a housewife or a nurse or teacher. (Not that there's anything wrong with being a nurse! *wink*)

I sometimes think about why mental illness gets such a bad rap. I think that illnesses like depression or anxiety actually pick up far worse stigma than schizophrenia or even bipolar at times, and I think that's because everybody knows what it's like to feel sad sometimes or to feel anxious about something. And therefore, they think that because they can snap out of those periods, then people with depression and anxiety should be able to snap out of it, too. And also because illness like depression makes a person very short-sighted by nature of the disease - a person becomes all-consumed by their depression and what is going on in their life to the point where it's hard to imagine it ever looking different. So that gives those who don't know depression all the more reason to think that those who are depressed should just snap out of it and quit being so negative. But they don't feel the bone-weariness, the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and so on down the line. People think that they know sadness or "depression" so they must know what it feels like to be depressed, and therefore have the right to judge and tell others it isn't so bad. And then there are those who just think that people with depression and anxiety are like a poison that should be avoided - their bleak mood will infect everything around them. It's sad....

Still so much stigma, but at least doctors are no longer telling mothers to beat up their kids and turn them into fearful, sniveling, unstable beings. Wonder if that doctor ever took note of what sort of problems these children ended up with! Sad that someone with authority would push such theories!

Great post, as always! Take care!

Carrie :)

12:51 AM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

Dr Kellogg is right about one thing; ne'er-do-wells do seem to breed at a phenomenal rate, although I had never actually used this term before. And I don't read colour into this... it has nothing to do with mental health issues either. It's a weird, unfortunate, social phenomenon all over the world. And in-breeding was quite common in the times that the book and Dr Kellogg were around. It really wasn't the global world that we have now, was it....

I am not being judgemental or bigotted here; it's just an observation.

Thank God we've moved on in the treatment of mental illness

5:45 AM  
Blogger MadMike said...

Great read MJ. Thanks!

2:59 PM  
Blogger Jean-Luc Picard said...

Is there a connection between inventing cornflakes and being head of a sanatorium?

3:27 PM  
Blogger Fresh Hell, Texas said...

My poor son. A mother with mental illness plus I completely forgot to beat him into submission with threats of hell as a back-up.

Oh, the guilt!

3:52 PM  
Blogger Angry Nurse said...

Ahh eugenics...My province had an entire commission set up for exactly the purpose you outlined. It operated I believe until the 60’s. In fact the present day government up here settled a law suit a few years ago when a women who was deemed “incorrigible” back in the day and was forcibly sterilized.

Hind sight does tend to be 20/20 though. One wonders how we will be viewed 50 to 100 years from now in regards to present day or so called "modern" thinking. Sadly I suspect it will not be in a positive light!

4:26 PM  
Blogger poody said...

Hey now I know why I am not mentally insane! It's because of all the beatings I got as child! Thanks Mom!I think I work with the morons he speaks with on a daily basis!I say someone needs to chunk that Dr Kellogg book at Tom Cruise's head and be done with the damn thing!Did I just say I was not mentally insane?? What about the old saying"takes one to know one"Here in the south we are used to every family having at least one "crazy" person. we are not ashamed or even try to hide it for the most part. It is just something we konw and live with. In fact, we don't call them crazy we xall them eccentric or high strung!!Maybe even difficult daughters!!

4:33 PM  
Blogger LJG aka Pennsylvania Independent said...

Mentally ill people have been treated with more compassion in recent years, but the prejudice toward still lingers.
I have dealt with discrimination of having bipolar disorder, such as not being believed when I had other medical issues besides mental health. It turned out I really had a problem, besides a mental health issues, but a physical one where proper precautions were not taken.
I am in the process of seeking some type of mental health treatment, because I haven't taken meds due to my insurance not covering them.
I am in a transistional phase where I might look into alternative, non-drug therapies, or seek mental health treatment through a partial hospitalization or on an outpatient basis.
The very very last resort would an inpatient program, but I do not want to do that again. I have been there twice and did not find it as helpful I wanted it to be.
I know I am going to have to make a decision soon on how I want to deal with my mental illness. It is going to need to be soon because I know I will be admitted to a hospital. The two times I was inpatient my choices were either to sign in voluntarily or be placed involuntarily. I do not want to have to make those choices again.

10:00 PM  
Anonymous may said...

fascinating stuff. i wonder what people in the year 3007 will say about the things that were written today...

may
www.aboutanurse.com

1:16 AM  
Blogger The Angry Medic said...

Good Lord. I had no idea such a household name was such a crackpot. You seem to like unmasking supposedly benign doctors, don't you? :)

I'm sad to say I still eat Kellogg's, but I'll be staying well away from that rack at the cereal aisle the next time I go shopping. Quaker's, you say?

P.S. Thanks for the encouraging words on my blog! You know I love you for them :)

11:40 PM  
Blogger Bohemian Road Nurse... said...

I love Sam Levenson---didn't he write "Everything but Money?" As for me, I have no excuse for my er..."skewed" mental situation, heh! But on a serious note, the world is definitely a tough place to navigate in, and guarding one's sanity is sometimes a difficult journey...

7:26 PM  
Blogger DrugMonkey said...

So much for the good old days of medicine when you could blame someone else for all of your problems. It really isn't your mother's fault.

What are you talking about? Every single problem I have is totally someone else's fault. Every achievement in my life due only to my superhuman determination to overcome the obstacles put in my way by others. I most assuredly do not stand on the shoulders of giants.

8:00 PM  
Blogger Labor Nurse said...

Didn't the eugenics movement actually start sterilizing the poor southern black population? I remember reading that some where.

BTW, I could come to your blog on the pictures alone.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Nurse Kelly said...

Well, Kellogg did have a point to some extent. People that were abused or neglected as children are much more likely to suffer some form of mental illness as an adult (anxiety, depression, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, etc). Obviously race has nothing to do with it.

4:12 PM  
Blogger JC Jones MA RN said...

Just think> the esteemed Dr. Kellogg would consider all of us mental defectives...it's great having such entertaining company!

2:32 PM  

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