“When I first started treating mental illness, the message was there is no cure; no getting better. Patients were warehoused in overcrowded wards. Now we have a total approach to care. Our patients are not crowded into hospitals and confined to a bed. They are up and living a life.”
Shelley Moore Capito
When Mildred Mitchell Bateman was a child of 12, a tornado tore through her home town of Cordele, GA, leaving a path of devastation. The Red Cross responded and young Mildred volunteered and helped care for survivors. "After that, I wanted to be a nurse and then a doctor. My mother was concerned that people would say 'you can't do that' but I was determined. I loved science and I loved helping people."
It was the beginning of a long and meritorious career for Mildred Mitchell Bateman, M.D. that has spanned over 60 years as a trailblazer in the treatment of mental illness--first as a psychiatrist and administrator, and then as a teacher. Her accomplishments include more than fifteen years as West Virginia's mental health commissioner-the state's first African-American and first woman to hold the position.
As the former director of West Virginia's Department of Mental Health, and the first chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Marshall University's School of Medicine, she has served her community and state with such dedication that in 1999 Governor Cecil Underwood renamed West Virginia's leading mental health facility (the Huntington State Hospital) the Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital to honor her accomplishments.
Her career is also a beacon to the progress the nation has made in treating the mentally ill. In over six decades of service, Bateman has fought to obtain public health care for the mentally ill, serving as a leader and role model during the long metamorphosis of mental health treatment into a respected medical specialty.
There was once little hope of recovery for the mentally ill. But after several years of treating patients, Dr. Bateman came to believe that given the resources, she could treat and even cure mental illness. This became her lifelong passion.
After graduating with her medical degree, she set out to study and practice internal medicine, intending to become a general practitioner. But a bulletin board notice announcing that Lakin State Hospital in West Virginia needed doctors drew her like a beacon to mental health.
Nominated as a Local Legend by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV-2), Mitchell-Bateman's awards include special recognition from the National Medical Association Section on Psychiatry and Neurology (1974), the 1995 E.Y. Williams Distinguished Clinical Scholar's Award, and the 1996 Wyeth-Ayerst Physician Award for community work. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter selected her to serve on his commission on Mental Health.
She is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Psychiatric Association (2000), and the Governor's Award for Civil Rights Contributions (2004).
"When I first came to the Huntington Hospital, it was so overcrowded patients had to walk across beds to get to a door," Bateman recalled. "And if a person was committed to a mental hospital, he or she was committed for life. One of the things I'm proudest of is that the hospital named for me has changed so much. It is fully accredited now and medical students can do their internships there."
Begins career as a Clinical Instructor, Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Appointed Clinical Director (1951-1952 and 1955-1958), and Superintendent (1958-1960), Lakin State Hospital, Lakin, WV
Appointed Supervisor, Division of Professional Services, West Virginia Department of Mental Health, Charleston
Appointed Director/Commissioner, West Virginia Department of Mental Health
Receives Honorary Doctorate Degrees from: Johnson C. Smith University (1963), West Virginia State College (1969), Alderson-Broadus College (1970), Bethany College (1971), and West Virginia Wesleyan College (1972)
Appointed Professor and Chairman, Department of Psychiatry, Marshall University School of Medicine, Huntington, WV
Appointed Associate Clinical Director (1985-1996), Clinical Director (1996-2000), Huntington State Hospital (in 1999, renamed Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital in her honor), Huntington
Receives Lifetime Achievement Award, West Virginia District Branch of the American Psychiatric Association
Honored with Governor's Award for Civil Rights Contribution to the State of West Virginia
Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia