This film is part of Free

The Nation’s Mental Health

A new approach to a national problem. This sensitive look at the National Institute for Mental Health shows America’s changing attitudes to ‘diseases of the mind’ in the post-war years.

Documentary 1951 19 mins


The draft for the Second World War had revealed shocking levels of mental illness in America, and by 1951, following the National Mental Health Act of 1946, old approaches to psychiatric care were being replaced by a more enlightened methodology. Patients who would once have been shackled to beds in rooms with barred windows were now treated by doctors and nurses with a mixture of medication and therapy in a community-based programme, co-ordinated at a national level.

This March of Time issue from April 1951 reflects producer Richard De Rochement’s interest in psychiatry and medicine. Although the film lacks the controversy of earlier issues, it is probably the better for it, in its thoughtful treatment of a highly sensitive subject. Older footage showing the disturbed behaviour of patients rocking to and fro and beating walls is upsetting but does not feel exploitative in the context of a narrative which emphasises the advances made in psychiatric treatment since the war. The startling results of the Menninger Clinic’s pioneering integrated approach to patient care are shown here in fascinating behind-the-scenes footage from one of the world’s very first art therapy centres.