When Willard State Hospital closed in 1995, after 125 years of continuous operation, 427 patient suitcases, filled with each patient’s personal belonging, were discovered, abandoned, in an attic. This interesting book attempts to bring to light the personal stories of the ten patients whose suitcases were found. The authors chose these specific suitcases because there was a plethora of personal notes and materials in each suitcase, that provided the authors with enough data, combined with patient records and charts, to try a reconstruct these people’s lives.
Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press
Buy it Here
This is a fascinating book about these people’s lives and about the hospital itself.
The “The Willard Asylum for the Insane,” opened in Ovid, New York in 1896. It closed in 1995. 54,000 people were committed to Willard during its 126 years of operation. Most patients stayed at Willard for an average of 30 years. One woman, for example, arrived 1899 and died 77 years later in the hospital at the age of 100. Half the patients who entered the facility died there.
Many of the people who were admitted to Willard would not meet the criteria for involuntary hospitalization today. Most were immigrants, who had experienced a series of major stresses in their lives such as the death of a spouse, loss of a job, poverty, homelessness, one woman was regularly beaten by her spouse. There was a nun who left her order and had no where to go. And of course, many patients did have major psychiatric disorders.
Today most of these people, if lucky enough to be able to GET treatment, would receive short-term treatment on an outpatient basis, living in board and care home, on their own with case management, or, as quite often occurs, living on the streets with no medication or treatment at all, either because services are unavailable, or patients are non-compliant. Many mentally ill people today, who could be helped by a short stay in a psychiatric hospital, therapy, and medication, are unable to receive these services and end up living on our streets. (Barton, C. 2006).
What makes this book so interesting, is not these grim statistics, but the detective work the writers embark on to tell the stories of these people’s incredible lives. Who were these people who were left behind and forgotten? Where did they come from? Why were they left here for so long? What was their story?
The bulk of the book examines these people lives and answers these questions, and it is a riveting read. You will find yourself drawn into to these people’s lives and experiences, taken back to the times they lived, and you will see their experience through their eyes.
The suitcase project eventually became an exhibit, that traveled around the country and I have included a link for you to look at. It gives you an idea of how interesting and compelling this book is.
The authors, one of whom is a psychiatrist, and another a mental health advocate and journalist, enable the reader to step into these people’s shoes which is a major achievement, and makes for a most interesting read.
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