By Paul Shen
Expecting children to thrive when bereft of human contact had tragically fatal consequences. In adults the expectation that we ignore our emotions for fear of looking “weak” is just as harmful.
Between the time when the microscope was invented and when Jonas Salk discovered penicillin, doctors knew that the true cause of most sicknesses was germs, but they did not have effective medicines. The best they could do was to isolate people who were sick so the germs didn’t spread, keep patients well fed and hope their natural immune system would save them. But there was an unexpected side effect.
When the patient was a child, the doctors locked them up in a room alone for days. Their only human contact was nurses who brought food. The children were not even allowed to have toys for fear that they would harbor hidden germs. After a few days of this many children stopped eating and slowly withered away. The doctors had no idea what to make of it except that it happened in hospitals, so they listed the cause of death as “Hospitalism.”
Today it seems a little hard to believe that they could miss something so obvious. People don’t just want attention and affection. These are real biological needs, and the younger you are, the more damage it does to your brain when you don’t fulfill those needs.
Hospitalism: When Good Intentions Just Don’t Cut It.
It took psychologist Harry Harlow’s famously repulsive motherless monkey studies to convince many people that humans need love to live. Expecting children to thrive when bereft of human contact had tragically fatal consequences. In adults the expectation that we ignore our emotions for fear of looking “weak” is just as harmful.
Americans have this myth of the “rugged individualist” which may have been the indirect cause of hospitalism. In those days the “experts” on childrearing advised parents to never pick up their babies and never let them sleep in the same room, or they would grow up weak, whiny and dependent. Today this attitude probably plays into the current mental health crisis. 20% of all Americans have to be hospitalized and medicated for stress-related mood disorders. Humans need human contact. Period.