I’ve never liked the word asylum, unless you’re talking about some poor soul living under some repressive regime that desperately wants to be in the United States.
I’m talking about “asylum” as in “insane asylum.” You rarely even hear “asylum” used in that context anymore. guess that’s progress, right? So, I was shocked when a friend sent me an article which featured the word “asylum” in a bad kind of way.
According to the article, more than 1,000 bodies have been found on a construction site at the University of Mississippi. Some of the bodies are believed to have been patients at the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum a century ago. None of the bodies have names or identifying information.
The asylum opened in 1855 and could house 150 patients. After the Civil War it expanded and could house 300 patients. Officials at the fast-growing University of Mississippi medical school planned to build a parking lot on the site.
Dr. James Keeton, dean of the medical school, said that moving the remains to a new burial site would cost an estimated $3 million — that’s $3,000 per body.
“We can’t afford that,” Keeton said, according to the article.
Really? Are you kidding me? First of all, I have a hard time believing the University of Mississippi can’t come up with $3 million to move the remains of mentally ill patients at the site of the state’s former Lunatic Asylum. If the Ole Miss football team needed $3 million, they would find it. Trust me.
What bothers me most is that no one seems interested in finding out who these poor souls are, where they came from and how to dignify their resting place. No one is mentioning conditions and policies at the Lunatic Asylum that allowed inmates to be buried in mass graves with no records identifying them, their illnesses and how they died.
Personally, I care. I think it is tremendously important for us to be reminded how people with mental illnesses were treated – mistreated – in the past. To comprehend the depth of the stigma about mental illness we need to look at how people like us were treated in the past. It’s not easy to do.
Conditions at “asylums” were beyond horrific. Patients were chained and treated like inmates. In the early 1950s, Mental Health America issued a call to asylums across the country for their discarded chains and shackles. In 1956, Mental Health America melted down these inhumane bindings and recast them into 300-pound bell.
The bell - now the symbol of the organization – “serves as a powerful reminder that the invisible chains of misunderstanding and discrimination continue to bind people with mental illnesses,” according to MHA’s website. I have touched that bell and believe me, I felt something.
So, what happens now that the university has decided it can’t afford to move the bodies and will build its parking lot elsewhere? Is someone – some organization – going to step up and give these folks a proper final resting place? Wouldn’t this be a powerful venue for a mental health research facility or museum or center to educate people about discrimination against the mentally ill?
Or are we just going to forget about these souls again and wait for another generation to make it right? a
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Best of Our Blogs: February 18, 2014 | World of Psychology (February 18, 2014)
Last reviewed: 16 Feb 2014