|Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency|
The Department of Mental Hygiene was responsible for the development and direction of policy governing the treatment of the mentally ill, the intellectually handicapped and inebriates and for the establishment and administration of institutions for their care for the period 1934 to 1944.
The Department of Mental Hygiene was established in 1934 following the proclamation of the Mental Hygiene Act (No.4157). Under the provisions of this legislation the titles of mental health agencies were altered to reflect changing community attitudes towards mental illness and new approaches to the treatment of the mentally disturbed. The Lunacy Department (VA 2864) became known as the Department of Mental Hygiene; the Inspector-General of the Insane became the Director of Mental Hygiene; hospitals for the insane became known as mental hospitals and licensed houses became mental homes.
The Department of Mental Hygiene was located within the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475) as its predecessor had been. The Director of Mental Hygiene assumed the powers and responsibilities of the Inspector General of the Insane, as established by the provisions of the Lunacy Act 1928 (No.3721). The Director thus assumed the powers of the Public Service Commissioner in relation to the officers and employees of the Department of Mental Hygiene. The Director exercised the powers of permanent head in relation to these employees and reported directly to the Chief Secretary and thence to Parliament. Given the powers assigned to the Director of Mental Hygiene, it has been decided that the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475) should not be cited as a superior agency for the Department of Mental Hygiene for the period 1934 to 1940.
However in 1940, under the provisions of the Public Service Act (No.4751) the Director of Mental Hygiene ceased to exercise the powers of the Public Service Commissioner in relation to the officers and employees of the Department of Mental Hygiene. The Public Service Commissioner had been replaced by the Public Service Board (VA 886) and the permanent officers of the Department elected one member of the Board who sat whenever matters concerning officers of the Department of Mental Hygiene were being considered. The Director retained certain powers in relation to disciplinary and other matters but no longer exercised all the powers of permanent head. Consequently the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475) has been cited as a superior agency for the period 1940 - 1944.
Given that the Chief Secretary had ministerial responsibility for mental health from 1855 to 1944, it is likely that records relating to the administration of this function will be found within the records of the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475).
By 1937, two branches had been established within the Department of Mental Hygiene. The Mental Defectives Branch was responsible for the care of retarded children and adults, while the Mental Hygiene Branch was responsible for the treatment of the mentally ill.
Under the provisions of the Lunacy Act 1928 (No.3721) and the Mental Hygiene Act (No.4157) and related legislation a variety of institutions had been established for the care and treatment of the mentally ill, mental defectives and inebriates and for those suffering a mental disorder consequent upon their war service.
Institutions for the long term treatment of patients suffering from chronic mental illness were known as mental hospitals. Hospitals for the short term assessment, diagnosis and treatment of people suffering from acute mental illness were known as receiving houses and special wards within public hospitals were known as receiving wards. Places for the care of ex-service personnel suffering from war related mental illness were known as mental treatment institutions. ly run institutions (or licensed houses) for the care of the mentally ill were to be known as mental homes from 1934. Separate institutions for the criminally insane such as "J Ward" Ararat were known as hospitals for the criminally insane.
The Mental Deficiency Act 1939 (No.4703) provided for the establishment of state institutions for the care of mental defectives and retarded children and for the licensing of ly run institutions. In 1932 a special school, staffed by teachers seconded from the Education Department (VA 714) had been opened at Kew Childrens Cottages (VA 2852) previously the Idiot Ward of Kew Asylum. In 1933 Travancore (VA 2861) had been established for "the reception of children who, although mentally defective, are capable of receiving benefit from special instruction". (See Annual Report 1933.) In 1937, Janefield (VA 2847) was opened to provide accommodation and educational instruction for the severely retarded.
The Director of Mental Hygiene was also responsible for those ly run premises which had been licensed for the reception, control and treatment of inebriates, later known as alcoholics.
The Department of Mental Hygiene was effectively abolished under the provisions of the Ministry of Health Act 1943 (No.4988). In 1944 following the proclamation of this Act and a major re-organisation and amalgamation of the administration of health services, including mental health services, the responsibilities of the Department of Mental Hygiene were assumed by the Mental Hygiene Branch (VA 2866) of the newly established Department of Health I (VA 695).
For an account of the administration of mental health in Victoria from 1836 to 1989, see VRG 39 Health.
Location of Records
Researchers are advised to consult VRG 8 Health and Welfare Agencies, VRG 26 Chief Secretary and VRG 9 Prisons and Youth Training centres.
Researchers should also consult the following sections of the List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985: 3.11.2. (Mental Hygiene Branch), 3.16.5. (Chief Secretary's Office), 3.4.7. (Penal and Gaols Branch), 8.0.0. (Health and Welfare Agencies) and 13.0.0. (Prisons and Youth Training Centres).