In the 1975 cult classic, 'One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest,' Jack Nicholson plays Randal Patrick Murphy an inmate tired of working on a penal farm. In search of an easy way to finish his sentence, Murphy has himself placed in a state run mental institution.
"I must be crazy to be in a loony bin like this:" Randal Patrick Murphy
After repeated conflicts with Head Nurse Ratched, played by Louise Fletcher, who won an academy award for the role,Murphy receives electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
In an 2011 interview in London's 'The Telegraph' Dr. Frank Pittman, the renowned American psychiatrist has said the publication of the book (on which the movie is based) "had an enormous effect" on his field.
"The book's publication contributed to a backlash against the entire psychiatric treatment system in the US in the 1960s. Huge, spirit-crushing state institutions – like the Oregon facility later depicted in the film – began reducing their excessive resident [numbers]." London 'The Telegraph'. Feb. 1, 2011.
With state mental hospitals emptied out and most states unable to fund new facilities, the mental ill are now given a prescription and treated at home.
"Yet for many mental health professionals the book and film also had a negative effect. A 1983 study involving 146 university students found "considerable negative changes in attitude" towards people with mental health problems among those who had seen the film." London 'The Telegraph'. Feb. 1, 2011.
Many people, who decry gun rights, fail to remember the liberal policy making agenda of the past that caused state mental institutions to close or cut back the number of patients. Also there was a backlash against electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) which we are led to believe was used on Nicholson's character in the film.
Perhaps the same people who are against ECT enjoy seeing sick and homeless people urinating in the stairwells of the New York Public Library.
Amid a minor revival in ECT in the early 1990s, The New York Times noted that thanks to the film's memorable images, "in the public mind 'shock therapy' has retained the tarnished image given it by Ken Kesey's novel: dangerous, inhumane and over-used"
The question begs to be asked. If those guilty of the rash of recent mass killings were treated or institutionalized, would these crimes have been committed? Could these people have been identified and not released into the general public? Were the state institutions better at treating patients than the prison system to which those accused my someday be assigned?
The questions above need to be answered as any part of the discussion of mental health and gun control.
The overriding concern, however, must always be that mental health patients receive the treatment and respect that they deserve.