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Clifford Beers

American reformer and founder of the mental hygiene movement.

Clifford Whittingham Beers was born in New Haven, Connecticut, studied at Yale University, and began a professional career in the insurance industry. In 1900 he was institutionalized for a mental breakdown after a suicide attempt and diagnosed as manic-depressive. Confined to both public and private institutions over a three-year period, Beers found the treatment of mental patients inhumane and ineffective. When his efforts to complain directly to hospital administrators were ignored, Beers smuggled letters out to state officials, and his efforts met with some success. By 1903 Beers was able to return to his career, but continued to work on behalf of reforming the treatment of the mentally ill.

In 1908 Beers published A Mind That Found Itself, a popular autobiographical study of his confinement and recovery, which was praised by the prominent psychologist

Clifford Beers (AP/Wide World Photos. Reproduced with permission.)

and philosopher William James. After the publication of this work, and with the general support of the medical community, Beers became a leading figure in the movement to reform the treatment of, and attitudes toward, mental illness. In the same year his book was published, Beers founded the Connecticut Society for Mental Hygiene (a name suggested by the psychologist Adolf Meyer, another supporter of Beers's efforts). This organization lobbied for improved treatment of mental patients and heightened public awareness of mental illness. In 1909, Beers organized the National Committee for Mental Hygiene and served as its secretary until 1939. He also helped establish the American Foundation for Mental Hygiene in 1928.

Beers's influence eventually spread beyond the United States. In 1918 he helped Clarence M. Hincks found a mental hygiene society in Canada, the Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene. Beers was active in organizing the International Congress on Mental Health in 1930, and three years later received an award for his achievements in the mental health field from the National Institute of Social Science. Beers's autobiography remained popular and influential, having gone into 26 printings by the time of his death in 1943.

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Psychology EncyclopediaFamous Psychologists & Scientists