About this Guide
This guide provides an overview of records relating to mental health currently held in archives, libraries, historical societies and governments around New York State. It is a work in progress.
In this booklet you will find descriptions of the mental health records we have discovered so far through searches of the statewide Historic Documents Inventory (HDI), the Research Libraries Information Network (RLIN), the general schedules for local governments, and Excelsior, the online catalog of the New York State Archives and State Library. We anticipate that additional resources will be identified as work in this area progresses.
This finding aid is being released during the course of the mental health component of the New York Heritage Documentation Project, which is developing a plan that will provide guidance to individuals, organizations, and government agencies working to preserve the extraordinarily rich documentation of mental health in New York. As the plan is implemented over time, more of the documentation will become available to researchers of all kinds, from scholars, physicians, policy makers, and other professionals to community and family members and citizen activists.
We hope that this guide will encourage further work to locate and make available additional archival resources that document mental health in New York. A more complete guide will be published later in the project as a booklet and on the State Archives web site (www.archives.nysed.gov), incorporating the records that will surely continue to be discovered in the coming months.
You can help us by letting us know about mental health documentation we may not yet be aware of. If you know of historical records, whether in a repository or still held by an organization or individual, please contact us with that information. A form has been provided at the end of this finding aid to assist you in doing this. [examples, and how to contact us]
The primary focus of the mental health services is the prevention and treatment of mental disorders and the promotion of mental health. The mental health activities can be subdivided into numerous subject areas including the treatment and care of the mentally ill, the prevention of mental illness (through research, intervention, and education), the protection of the rights of mental health consumers (advocacy groups, governmental oversight), and the training of mental health professionals.
Mental health programs serve individuals with mental disorders and their caregivers, support those coping with the problems of daily life, and reach out to those at risk for mental illness.
A mental disorder is a "clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual that is associated with present distress (e.g., a painful symptom) or disability (i.e., impairment in one or more important areas of functioning) or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability or an important loss of freedom." (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition), p. xxi.) Common categories of mental disorders are schizophrenia, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and sleep disorders. In very general terms, mental health refers to the ability to cope with the transitions, stresses, traumas, and losses that occur in all lives, in ways that allow emotional stability and growth.
For the purposes of this project, the definition of mental health does not include such related topics and issues as developmental disabilities and mental retardation or substance abuse.
State agencies and private institutions that deal with mental illness operate under strict legal and ethical codes to protect the privacy of individuals who are mentally ill or have official interaction with mental health service providers. The intent of this project is to make available the historical record of mental health as a vital part of New York's history while maintaining strict adherence to the law and to ethical principles regarding privacy.
We hope you find this guide interesting and useful, even in this preliminary and incomplete form, and we welcome your suggestions for additions to the archival record of mental health in New York. Feel free to contact us with your comments, questions, or suggestions:
New York State Archives
Cultural Education Center 9C71
Albany, NY 12230