Remembering people buried at state hospitals

After several years of planning, organizers held a dedication ceremony on June 10 for the national consumer memorial which commemorates the hundreds of thousands of mostly anonymous people buried at state hospitals across the country.

Our friend Larry Fricks, director of the Appalachian Consulting Group and vice-president of peer services for the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, has been an active leader on this project.

For our part, a couple of years ago we provided the documentary, Recovered Dignity, on a local public access channel and held a discussion panel following the movie on the issues of treating people with mental illness with dignity and respect. The program was well received and helped to raise awareness of the project to create a national memorial at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Locally, Michelle Fisher was inspired to get involved to raise funds. She raised $500 to help support the project, and as a thanks for her efforts, she will be able to inscribe three stones in the memorial gardens with a commemorative message. Way to go, Michelle!

Michelle says, “It is very important to me to recognize those that have died in mental hospitals because my uncle died in one several years ago…  The wonderful garden at St.Elizabeth’s will be a forever reminder of those who deserve to be honored for their strength and  the courage that it takes to live with a mental illness.  I am honored to be able to contribute to the project.”

Liz MacCord, RN, Case Manager at Northern Lakes CMH, concurs, “This project is a big deal!  And another way to apologize for the stigma that was, and continues to be at times, attached to those with a mental health diagnosis. For so long those diagnosed with a mental illness have fought for dignity while living and to have the stigma continue in death has been a travesty and disgrace.  My personal thanks to St. Elizabeth’s for this project.”

Mental Health America (MHA), in partnership with the District of Columbia Department of Mental Health, held the event on June 10 on the grounds of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C., and installed a granite marker bearing the quote “I must fight in the open” from MHA founder Clifford W. Beers. The ceremony was held in conjunction with MHA’s Centennial Conference.

You may read more details about the project in the Behavioral Healthcare magazine article, “Remembering patients buried at state hospitals“.

You may also view a video which explains the need for the memorial on the Today Show: The City of Lost Graves.