About Clifford Beers

By Jim Hajny, Executive Director

May 1, 2024

May is Mental Health Awareness month. Once upon a time that meant something. May is now arthritis, walking, women’s health care month, better sleep month, Asian Pacific Islander, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and brain tumor awareness month. Those are all important issues to recognize. But mental health awareness month was started in 1949 by Clifford Beers of Mental Health America. MHA is the country’s oldest mental health advocacy organization. Clifford Beers (March 30, 1876 – July 9, 1943) was the founder of the American mental hygiene movement. (Wikipedia.com) He was a peer. He was the original peer supporter and advocate in the recovery movement. Clifford Beers was a ground breaker. Laying the foundation for organizations like Montana’s Peer Network.

He first published “A Mind that found itself: an autobiography” in 1908. You can read his story and recovery here for free*.

A short excerpt I found particularly meaningful from Mr. Beers; "My heart's desire" is a true phrase. Since 1900, when my own breakdown occurred, not fewer than one million men and women in the United States alone have for like causes had to seek treatment in institutions, thousands of others have been treated outside of institutions, while other thousands have received no treatment at all. Yet, to use the words of one of our most conservative and best informed psychiatrists, "No less than half of the enormous toll which mental disease takes from the youth of this country can be prevented by the application, largely in childhood, of information and practical resources now available."

This excerpt from his autobiography could be said today rather than more than 120 years ago. Millions suffer from mental illness, some will seek traditional treatment, thousands will go outside “the system” and yet others will seek no treatment at all.

For about 30 years Clifford Beers wrote about his psychiatric hospitalizations and recovery. The Oskar Diethelm library has more than 64 boxes of writings, art, photographs and scrapbooks from Clifford Beers. I found more than dozen books on Clifford Beers and the origins of the psychiatric patient movement online. He graduated from Sheffield Scientific School at Yale in 1897. Three years later he would be psychiatrically hospitalized.

“A pen rather than a lance has been my weapon of offense and defense; with its point I should prick the civic conscience and bring into a neglected field men and women who should act as champions for those afflicted thousands least able to fight for themselves.” Clifford Beers

In 1930, Clifford Beers organized the International Congress for Mental Hygiene in Washington, DC, attended by representatives from 53 countries. The meeting launched international reform efforts and led to the development of the International Committee for Mental Hygiene. (National Library of Medicine, Manon Peery, PhD)

In 1937 he wrote, “The Manic depressive psychosis from which I suffered  is a highly recoverable form of mental trouble, and psychiatrists aside from treating a patient with consideration,  cannot do very much to bring about a cure until recovery had actually set in.” (Clifford Beers, Advocate for the insane, Norman Dain, University of Pittsburgh.)

Other notable recognitions for Clifford Beers.

  • There is a clinic named after him in Connecticut
  • There is a historical marker – The Extra Mile in Washington DC.
  • National Association of Social Workers Pioneers
  • Clifford Beers annual award Mental Health America

This May let’s focus on the original. Talk to your family, friends, coworkers about mental health and recovery. Share your story with others. Lets keep moving our struggles out of the shadows and into the light for positive change. If you would like to submit your video story (5 minutes or less) we will share it on our YouTube page. If you want to write an essay email me jim@mtpeernetwork.org. This is how we raise awareness by talking about it. If we could all be more like Clifford Beers imagine where we could be as a society.

*This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and most other parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org. If you are not located in the United States, you will have to check the laws of the country where you are located before using this eBook. The Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation (“the Foundation” or PGLAF), owns a compilation copyright in the collection of Project Gutenberg™ electronic works.



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