Titicut Follies

Titicut Follies, a documentary made in 1967 about the Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts, exemplifies the horrors of mental institutions I talked about in the last post, which have largely remained unchanged. It is disturbing but definitely worth watching. Patients in this documentary are berated, provoked, beaten by racist and violent guards and treated like animals. (Most of the doctors also smoke cigarettes while evaluating patients demonstrating their commitment to healthy behaviors, and the doctor who runs the talent show for the mental patients looks, to me, like a villain out of Marvel.) One patient is shown being force-fed by a tube shoved into his nasal cavity and down his throat because he is too depressed to eat. They are also forced to remain naked much of the time. Guards endlessly harass and provoke the patients by asking the same questions over and over, despite receiving answers multiple times, and doctors clearly don’t listen to patients or care what they’re saying or consider that some people don’t belong there.

A seemingly healthy patient who had been at Bridgewater for 18 months asked a doctor in the film what made him a “paranoid schizophrenic” and why they’re keeping him there and he cannot get a straight answer. He asks what makes him different from the doctor, and the doctor replied, “I have not been committed to a mental institution.” Another intelligent patient who is clearly a political prisoner with communist beliefs is also shown in the film. One Russian patient said he “would rather go back to prison” because the conditions were worse in the mental hospital; he tried to tell his doctor (in vain) that he was actually developing emotional and mental issues that he didn’t have before because of the terrible hospital conditions. The doctors response was essentially that he felt the patient was delusional since he felt he was being harmed, and thus would need more medication (specifically tranquilizers). The doctors and guards really seemed more disturbed than most of the mental patients, and these problems didn’t just exist in this hospital in 1967. One can only imagine the horrors of mental institutions that are never filmed or seen where cameras would be out of the question.

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