Another remnant of this country's old mental hospitals has drawn attention
recently. Former patients and their supporters in a dozen states are working
to preserve what is left of the graveyards where thousands of patients were
buried in near anonymity.
“Many state hospitals have been closed and sold off while their
cemeteries or the land is given to cities in which they are located,”
says Patricia Deegan, Ph.D., of Newbury, Mass., cofounder of the National
Empowerment Center. “Consumer/survivors are restoring and properly
memorializing state hospital cemeteries around the country.”
The 30,000 graves in the cemetery at Central State Hospital in
Milledgeville, Ga., for instance, were marked only by numbered metal stakes
until they were uprooted in the 1970s to make mowing easier.
A numbered grave is “offensive,” said Deegan. Working with a
$58,000 federal grant, her group will try to identify the graves.
“Cemetery restoration is a tool for mending the wrongs of the
past,” said Deegan. “At the same time, we're addressing the
attitudes toward people diagnosed with mental illness in the present, and the
involvement of ex-patients in this project is a way to let mental patients be
seen as community leaders rather than the media cliché of `psycho