Imprisonment and mental illness.

Happy Bastille Day, Le Quatorze Juillet, 7/14

Most people are familiar with Bastille Day, a national celebration of independence in France, and the beginning of the French Revolution. It was marked by the storming of the Bastille in 1789, a medieval fortress that became a prison and place of torture, in eastern Paris.

Ironically, on the day of the storming of the prison, there were only seven prisoners present.

The symbolism, however, is crucial. The prison was used by the Paris police with immunity to do what they wanted for countless years. It housed many political dissidents, including the writer Voltaire. In addition to those who went against the callous rulers Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, what is less known is that the Bastille was used to house the chronically mentally ill, often family members of the elite. Most prominently, schizophrenics and developmentally disabled individuals. On the day of the storming of the fortress, of the seven prisoners being held, two met the diagnosis for schizophrenia based on current medical knowledge.

For centuries, mental illness has been treated as criminal, dangerous, punished, and hidden away. Today, many homeless individuals and those who are incarcerated suffer from major mental illnesses.

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