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A Clinical Alternative to the Public Health Approach to Mental Illness: a forgotten social experiment
Abstract

In the last half of the 20th century, the community mental health movement, based on a public health model, came to dominate patterns of care for mental patients. In the process, brutal deinstitutionalization of very ill patients took place, at least in the United States. These events were not inevitable. In 1949, the Menningers of Topeka, Kansas, began administering Topeka State Hospital, which was in deplorable condition. By concentrating expenditures on clinical personnel, the Menningers humanely deinstitutionalized many patients—before chlorpromazine, before the entitlement programs of the U.S. federal government such as Medicaid (1965), and before the community psychiatry movement got under way. Topeka State Hospital furnished a model of mental health care that centered a whole system on a last-resort, large, specialized state mental hospital. This inadvertent social experiment suggests that a clinical approach to mental health care offers a hard-headed alternative to present arrangements.