Story of the Mental Health Bell

During World War II, future leaders of National Mental Health America worked in state mental hospitals. There, they witnessed the deplorable and inhumane treatment of patients with mental illnesses who were chained to the hospital walls. This experience inspired the men to devote their time to improving the lives of all those who suffer from mental illnesses, and changing the way America thinks about persons with mental illnesses.

In 1950, the leaders of the National Mental Health America chose a Bell as their symbol. Two years later, volunteers at the Mental Health America’s National Headquarters in New York collected the metal restraints from hundreds of mental hospitals across the country and piled them in the building’s lobby. These restraints were then shopped to the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, MD, where, in 1953, they were dropped into a crucible and cast into a 300-pound bell.

Nothing could proclaim hope for those who have a mental illness more dramatically than a bell cast from the actual chains and shackles used as restraints for persons with mental illness.

The bell bears the following inscription:

“Cast from shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness.”

To many, a bell symbolizes freedom and liberty. For the 40 million Americans affected by mental illnesses, the bell serves as a reminder of the more insidious chains of stigma and discrimination that still bind people with mental illnesses.

Presidents, national mental health leaders and a host of others from around the world have rung the Mental Health Bell, which stands as a national symbol for the mental health movement. When not in use for such special events, the Mental Health Bell is displayed at the National Mental Health America’s Headquarters in Alexandria, VA.

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