The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From A State Hospital Attic – Darby Penney, Peter Stastny & Lisa Rinzler (2008)


The Lives They Left Behind is a nonfiction account of ten patients of the Willard Psychiatric Centre between 1869 and 1995. When the facility was closed in 1995, after 126 years of operation, curators and mental health advocates found a trove of over 400 suitcases, preserved in a locked attic over one of the outbuildings. After carefully removing and housing all the suitcases, they selected 10, and researched those owners, to create a picture of what mental health treatment in the 20th century United States would have looked like. The sadness, and tragedy of most of the stories is that the patients were not necessarily mentally “disturbed” (to use parlance from the time), but rather depressed, lonely, broke, ill or scared. Yet, in this time, anything from being overly loud, or seeing a doctor that one’s employer felt was too far away, or being “caught” masturbating in one’s own bed were all valid reasons at the time to be locked away for the remainder of one’s life. The treatments that mental health patients received, in general, at the time, is beyond the scope of this book, however the reader does learn through medical records and first hand account interviews the treatments that the 10 suitcase owners received. This book is gripping, as it shows both how far, and yet how little we still understand about mental health in North America. It explains, also, why we are conditioned to fear those with mental health issues. Penney, et al. show the fear, the pain and dreadfulness that was institutionalization during this time period. They offer statistics about why women were four times more likely to be held in a facility like Willard than men; the indentured servitude that came with being committed; the solutions that we have now that would have been better solutions for these patients. Other than a few typos and structural errors, this book is amazing, and must be read. 189 pages (including photos)

#thelivestheyleftbehind #penney #stastny #rinzler #photographic #nonfiction #history #mentalhealth #mentalhealthadvocacy #kalidesautelsreads 

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