The Mental Health Bell: Symbol of hope

May 2, 2018

May is observed as Mental Health Awareness month.  As part of our mental health reporting initiative WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says a bell was created more than six decades ago as a symbol and sign of hope.  

In the early 1950's the organization, Mental Health America, called on mental health asylums across the United States to discard old shackles and chains once used on wrists and ankles, restraining those being treated for mental illness.  

Maryland Gov. Theodore McKeldin and Mrs. A. Felix DuPont in 1953 pour the metal made from melted chains used to restrain people with mental illnesses to create the Mental Health Bell.
Credit Photo from the Mental Health America webpage

65-years ago, in April of 1953 a bell was cast together by the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, Maryland. The 300-pound Mental Health Bell was created with melted down shackles and chains, now a symbol of the reminder misunderstanding and discrimination that once occurred.

“That leaves deep scares on the people who were personally impacted by that, by their families, by the mental health professionals who thought that was the most enlightened form of care at the time,” remarked Ken Houseneckt, executive director, Mental Health Association of Erie County.

“We don’t want to accentuate the negative anymore. We want to accentuate the positive. The truth is most people are mentally healthy most of the time. The truth is most mental health challenges, even the most sever and the most persistent can be made better, much, much better through treatment – treatment is effective," Houseneckt described.        

The Association's office on Delaware Avenue displays a replica of the bell. 

A mental health bell inside the offices of the Mental Health Association of Erie County on Delaware Ave. in Buffalo.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“Every single person probably knows people who have serious mental health issues that they don’t even know about because those people are so effectively living with them. The truth is there is help and hope for almost every single person,” Houseneckt said.   

The Mental Health Bell.
Credit Photo from the Mental Health America webpage

The inscription on the Mental Health Bell states: "Cast from shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness."