Children of Darkness

1983, Health  -  57 min Leave a Comment
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This is an Oscar nominated 1983 documentary film exploring the issue of mentally ill children and the institutions they lived in. The film not only exposed the abuse in mental institutions but it also educated people that mental illness can happen to anyone.

Hundred and sixty mentally ill and emotionally disturbed children lived at the Eastern State School and Hospital (now closed) in Trevose, Pennsylvania.

They were psychotic, schizophrenic; they suffered from organic brain damage and autism. Some were hyperactive, some totally withdrawn, some were suicidal. Many of the children at Eastern were chronically mentally ill and never saw what we see, heard what we hear, thought in ways we do. Eastern State was the largest children's state psychiatric hospital in America. Each child got food, mediation and a place to sleep.

For those who could benefit from it there was almost no one-to-one or any other form of psychotherapy. The major therapy at Eastern was drugs. Almost every child there was getting some form of psychotropic medication; medication that alters the brain's chemistry in an attempt to control psychotic behavior.

Another popular place for dealing with out-of-control teenagers was the private residential treatment center Elane (now also closed). If you broke one of the rules or your attitude wasn't right you get yelled at which was the main method of "therapy." The teenagers who went there were not mentally ill, psychiatric hospitals didn't work for them. They were alcoholics, drug addicts and drug pushers. They were teenagers who had victimized others and themselves.

The kids at Elan were almost all white, from upper-middle class and wealthy homes. Their parents paid more than $20,000 a year to send them there for treatment. But those were children who had acted out often violently against their parents. Day in, day out, life in Elan was constant confrontation and unrelenting pressure. The feelings and negative attitudes were broken down, dissected and torn apart. The idea was to change the children's behavior.