Thursday, July 05, 2007

Major Misdiagnosis! - Deaf People Trapped In The Mental Health Gulag

"There is no evidence to suggest that there is any greater occurrence of mental illness in the deaf population. But, poor diagnosis, miscommunication and misguided treatment programmes have resulted in the gross over-representation of deaf people in mental hospitals"

This is the result of a study by Timmermans in 1989 in which identified that whereas hearing patients had remained in psychiatric hospitals for an average of 148 days, the hearing impaired patients' average stay was 19.5 years.

Since there has never been any scientific backing of any diagnosis by members of the psychological community, it is safe to say that social politics has always played major roles in many cases involving people with hearing disabilities.

Let's move on to the stories of people from our community who have experienced these 19th century grips:


In 1959 a boy, Alberto Valdez, was misdiagnosed as either retarded or schizophrenic after taking a childhood test. He had been abandoned in state mental institutions for almost 30 yrs. His medical records showing that he had been born with a normal or even superior intelligence HAD BEEN IGNORED!!! In that time he has suffered mental and physical abuse from other psychotic patients and hospital staff and has never learned language. With no means to communicate, he'd often fight back and was severely punished for defending himself. He was kept in 3 different mental institutions even though he was neither mentally retarded or psychotic, the courts and tests have found. His sister's lawsuit against California (Alberto was a ward of the state) contended that Alberto had been improperly institutionalized. Upon finding about Alberto's case, Deaf advocates and legislators reacted strongly to it. With a Northern California Deaf Association leader calling it "a total breakdown of the system" and then State Senator John Seymore calling this an outrage and asked the Senate Budget Committee to look into Alberto's case. The Little Hoover Commission has begun to investigate treatment of the Deaf in state institutions. For a long time, Deaf and mental health advocates have been critical of hospital administrators for refusing to create oversight committees to prevent other patients from being misdiagnosed, mistreated, and abandoned. A court approved settlement provided Alberto with an annuity in which he is presently receiving $30,000 per year. Since starting in his rehabilitation, his progress was phenomenal. Alberto has worked at Goodwill Industries and according to Nancy A. Quarles, Director of Rehabilitation, Alberto has left Goodwill Industries and is now living in Northern California.

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On May 7, 1997 at the NBC's Today Show, Actress and Deaf Comedienne Kathy Buckley talks about being put in a school for mental retardation and thinking she was mentally retarded for many years because no one ever explained her hearing loss until she was in her 30's and bought some hearing aids. The experts took an unreasonably long time to discover that she merely had a hearing disability. The teachers took 2 years to realize their mistake. She says in her standup "Dont Buck With me" show "There are no limits as to what we can possibly do with our lives" and she also said "You spend your whole life being rejected from society...from something you have no control over" She said that by making jokes about her life experiences that society has started to accept her.


Martinez wasn’t charged with a crime, never has been. Nonetheless, the State of Arizona kept him imprisoned at the State Hospital for four decades. He spent years in the hospital’s infamous Cholla ward, among depraved and deranged murderers, rapists and other violent men. A doctor who evaluated him in 1993 wrote that Martinez fell through the cracks "because he didn’t have an opportunity . . . to make his case, to be understood, and to talk his way out of it." Martinez endured his nearly 40 years in custody alone and in silence. No one at the State Hospital was able to communicate with him in American Sign Language on more than a basic level. For years, Artie Martinez had no advocates--no legal guardian, no watchdog group, no friends. And after his parents died and his siblings scattered more than a quarter-century ago, he had no family to go to bat for him. On April 5, 1994, Artie Martinez left the State Hospital, probably for the last time.Twelve years before Martinez was released, a hospital psychologist wrote, "It is this examiner’s strong opinion that this patient has not been psychotic over the past few years, and probably never was so."A legislative committee approved an out-of-court settlement in the Martinez case in 1997. The sum remains a secret, though the fact that the committee had to okay it means it was for more than $150,000.


Junius Wilson, a victim of social politics, was arrested and detained for false rape charges spent 71 yrs in a mental institution. It all began in 1925 when New Hanover county sheriffs deputies dragged him away from Castle Hayne at the age of 16. He was arrested for rape. Because he was Deaf and mute, a jury found him incompetent to stand trial. They declared him to be mentally ill and retarded. They castrated him and locked him away in a squalid institution. 50 years later the charges were dropped. He had not done the crime. As bad as that seems it gets worse. For the next 18 years no one freed him even though he was innocent. He is now too old to be turned loose. He has nothing, no one and no where to go. He is now being cared for by the state in a neat little home. He has received a large settlement from the state and now is living in an apartment and cared for by a live in caretaker. Mr. Wilson is also receiving sign language instruction among a number of other things in amends for the injustices done to him.

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  1. These kinds of stories can go on forever. From my "lofty age", I can see that the educational aspects of the multiple handicapped have come a very long ways. Do not give up, keep on pushing (and posting!)

    My heart goes out to you guys and gals who have suffered so much with multiple disabilities. If there is a God, you will eventually receive your due.

    Hugs from Lantana, Lantanas's Latitudes

  2. Thank you for bringing this up!

    Many States Government still ignored the deaf people with mental disorders!

    Even normal deaf people don't bother to help them. They act like they don't exist!

  3. If anyone is interested, there are instructional videos on topics of mental health and deaf people for sale by clicking onto this link at St. Joseph's Center for the Deaf:

    Mental Health Videos

    * Working With Deaf Patients: An Orientation for Psychiatrists
    Copyright, 1998 - St. Joseph's Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

    This program is Closed Captioned and Produced with the support of the DRA fund of The San Francisco Foundation

    Total Running Time:40 minutes

    Cost: $20.00

    * Deaf Consumers in a Hearing Managed Care System: Information and Advocacy for Access to Mental Health Services
    Copyright, 2001 - St. Joseph's Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

    This program introduces Deaf clients to information they need to know when preparing to receive mental health services from their Health Maintenance Organization (HMO). Narrated by Nat Wilson, whose credits include work with the world-famous National Theater of the Deaf, this video alternates between dramatized vignettes and narrated segments designed to highlight key points.

    This program is presented in American Sign Language by Deaf actors, accompanied by Closed Captioning and a voice-over in English.

    Total Running Time: 38 minutes
    Cost: $20.00

    I've seen both videos and they are excellent!

    ~ LaRonda

  4. I don't mean to be disagreeable, but there are many studies which contradict the statement by Timmermans...

    I'm familiar with many of the cases of gross incompetence and systemic failures, and we STILL find Deaf people improperly committed to institutions, but with staff members who are sign-fluent and culturally attuned, the vast majority of Deaf long-term patients can be effectively served in the community.

    Junious Wilson (note correct spelling) passed away about 4 years ago. I worked with him for a brief time after he was identified.

  5. It was suggested that I be placed at the Randolph School for The Deaf back in the early 1960's due to a misdiagnosis of expressive aphasia. I loss my hearing due to Rh Factor and could only speak 20 words at the age of 6.

    My parents fought to keep me in public school and to receive speech therapy. I was one of the fortunate few that did not become institutionalized as a result of misdiagnosis.

    I am seeking names of others who may have been diagnosed like myself from 1955-1975 at the Mass Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital in Boston. I wish to conduct interviews with those whom did not opt the institutional route but remained home with family.

    I hope to publish a book highlighting the factors that contributed to the success of such individuals and to also speak to the ultimate challenge encountered by families.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

  6. The Little Hoover Commission has begun to investigate treatment of the Deaf in state institutions. For a long time, Deaf and mental health advocates have been critical of hospital administrators for refusing to create oversight committees to prevent other patients from being misdiagnosed, mistreated, and abandoned.

  7. This be in response to RLM's post.

    The days of the ignorance are long gone.

    It's very hard to put a deaf person in a mental hospital nowadays. Mistakes were made in the past and they have been corrected thanks to the advocacy of people like myself.

    I'm befuddled as to why RLM decided to make a hoot of this post in relation to my position of AB 2072.