Incarcerated in dark and filthy Insane Asylums, kept in chains and treated like animals, subjected to horror treatments such as being doused with cold water or given electric shocks – society's treatment of those with intellectual disability and psychiatric disorders (referred to as idiots or imbeciles and lunatics or maniacs respectively) has a shameful past.
Although some reforms were introduced in Europe and America in the 1800s, it wasn't until the beginning of the 20th Century, after a former psychiatric patient Clifford Beers wrote a book: A Mind that Found Itself, that real change began.
In the book, Beers related his experiences in various psychiatric hospitals and proposed the establishment of a voluntary organisation to assist people with problems of the mind, both inside and outside hospitals. This gave rise to the formation of the National Association for Mental Health in the United States.
In 1913, a similar organisation was formed in South Africa, which is now known as the South African Federation for Mental Health
It began as a National Committee, which formed a link between Government and mental hygiene (now known as mental health) societies functioning at the local level. It was also responsible for preventive programmes and public education on mental health issues.
The local societies were mainly concerned with:
- Identifying people with mental illness or mental handicap in the community and arranging for their admission to government institutions.
- Disseminating literature on the prevention of mental illness or mental handicap.
- Promoting the establishment of special classes for children with mild mental handicap.
Today, the National Directorate:
- Acts as a spokesman on national and international issues.
- Negotiates with authorities on policy issues.
- Provides a forum for local organisations to share information and expertise.
- Maintains a national information and resource centre.
- Develops and distributes educational material.
- Develops staff training programmes.
- Facilitates community services in areas where there is no local mental health society.