On Involuntary Mental Hospitalization


On his essay “Involuntary Mental Hospitalization: A Crime against Humanity,” Dr Thomas Szaz makes an argument against mental hospitalization. Dr Szaz argues that society commits people to mental institutions not to help them but as an “exercise in power.” To bolster his argument, he uses slavery as analogy and compares the two.

In reading Dr. Szaz’s arguments, I couldn’t help wonder of what goes in the minds of such victims as they are transported away from their homes and into mental institutions. I feel that Dr. Szaz’s argument that doing is a “form of imprisonment,” is appropriate. He argues that involuntary mental hospitalization is evil because it is “a social arrangement whereby one part of the society secures certain advantages for itself at the expense of another part.” Throughout the essay Dr. Szaz uses the practice of slavery to make his point.

I was little bit irritated by the doctor’s continuous use of slavery to make his point because I disagree with his assertion that involuntary mental hospitalization equals slavery. Slavery, especially in this country targeted only one group of people and based on the color of skin forcing them to undergo through some of the most brutal tortures/oppression in recorded history. During slavery, many slaves died as a result of the hard labor they were forced to perform and even centuries after the abolition of slavery, Blacks in this country continue to undergo great ordeals as they face social discrimination and hardships. Similarly, victims of involuntary mental hospitalization are forced into “captivity” not because of the color of their skin or social background but rather based on their mental condition (at least this is what one would hope so).  So a clear distinction of the two cases exists. Slavery in this country carries a social and psychological scar for descendents of former slaves.

Dr. Szaz argues from historical, medical and moral perspectives to establish his argument. He uses the example of Mrs. Packard who was incarcerated “for disagreeing with her husband-minister.” He states that the State of Illinois where the act took place proclaimed, “married women…maybe be entered or detained in the hospital at the request of the husband of the woman or the guardian…without the evidence of insanity required in other cases.” This shows the exploitation that is done in the name of hospitalizing mentally ill patients.

The doctor’s use of Mrs. Packard reminded me of the case of Christine Collin portrayed on the movie Changeling by the actress Angelina Joli, in which Mrs. Collin is forcefully hospitalized in a mental institution because she was seen as a threat to the career of many police officers as a result of a police cover-up.  In this, at least the doctor captures the exploitations and misdeeds that can happen in the name of caring for mentally ill in mental institution, and as the China proves, political dissents can be punished by being forced into mental institutions in the name of being “mentally ill” and a threat to society at large.

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