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The Turning Point

How Men of Conscience Brought About Major Change in the Care of America's Mentally Ill

Alex Sareyan

  • ISBN 978-0-88048-560-9
  • Item #8560

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The Turning Point is the first comprehensive chronicle of the contributions made by conscientious objectors who volunteered for service in America's mental hospitals and state institutions for the developmentally disabled during Word War II. It brings together excerpts from Life, Reader's Digest, and The Cleveland Press, as well as letters and personal reminiscences that recall the shock and distress of conscientious objectors at the conditions in state mental hospitals.


  • Foreword by Don Hammersley, M.D. Preface. Acknowledgments. Conscientious objectors in the United States 1775 to World War II. Out of sight, out of mind. A view from the lion's den. Agents for social change: part one. Agents for social change: part two. Perceptions and misperceptions. The turning point. Plan for action becomes a reality. Minnesota joins the crusade. The Mennonite mental health story. Legacies of the Civilian Public Service mental hospital program. Looking back. Epilogue. References. Appendixes. Annotated bibliography. Index.

About the Authors

Alex Sareyan attended the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Economics degree. During World War II he was a conscientious objector and served as the assistant director of the unit and also worked part-time as an attendant on the wards at Connecticut State Hospital at Middletown. He is now the President of the Mental Health Materials Center.

This is a haunting account of the choices we, as American people, have made in this particular area of our historical evolution in this country. It pays long overdue service to the historical acount of WWII management of conscientious objectors, and it pays tribute to those conscientious objectors who have had the courage to serve their country in other ways, according to their convictions.—Doody's Journal

Many of the concepts of mental illness that we take for granted today began with the crusade spearheaded by the conscientious objectors and their wives. They have the right to be proud of their legacy as agents for social change.—The New England Journal of Medicine

The Turning Point presents a graphic description of the work of conscientious objectors during World War II. Most importantly, the story traces how their work led to important reforms in public mental hospitals throughout the U.S. and helped to lay a solid foundation for the future provision of care for the mentally ill in the public and voluntary sectors. . . . The Turning Point presents history, and like all history, provides a path for the future.—Lucy Ozarin, M.D., National Institute for Mental Health

It vividly recalls the years when I was staff psychiatrist for the National Mental Health Foundation and offers a dramatic account of what conscientious objectors who volunteered for service in state mental hospitals underwent on the wards of these deteriorated psychiatric institutions during World War II.—Dallas Pratt, M.D., Psychiatrist

Your inspirational book, The Turning Point about how a small band of pacifist men and women of conscience awoke the sleepy institutionalized giant, the state mental hospital system during World War II, is both a victory for those people who served and frustrating for today's urban social ills. The Turning Point provides an historical review of the social resistance to change encountered by this group of internally motivated people of conscience. To have the personal strength to take on one's entire society can represent the very best in human maturity. Without the truth there is little resistance to dehumanization on a vast scale. These courageous few, religiously motivated COs fought their own quiet battle during the war and deserve all of society's thanks. . . We need a national service corps to mobilize ourselves for the future well-being of our minorities based, in part, on the story represented in The Turning Point, and paralleled in the Peace Corps, and other similar groups.—Perry Ottenberg, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, Senior Attending Psychiatist, Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, From the Preface

I found The Turning Point both interesting and informative.—Mabel Ross, M.D., National Institute of Mental Health

[A] fitting 50-year celebration of what was perhaps the most significant and most enduring of all the alternative service programs developed in World War II as 'work of national importance.—Mennonite Quarterly Review

This is the first book to chronicle the experiences of conscientious objectors assigned to duty in mental health hospitals of this country. . . . The result is an involving, revealing portrait.—The Midwest Book Review

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