Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Rockhaven sanitarium.

The Atlantic has an interesting look at the Rockhaven sanitarium, a mental health institution run by a woman, for women. Opened in 1923 by Agnes Richards, a nurse who worked in the mental health field, who wanted a kinder, more humane practice, Rockhaven seems to have been an idyllic space for women.

The word used throughout the piece is "asylum" which gives the heebie-jeebies. Nothing ever good happens around that word. 

Most films or stories that represent the turn of the 20th century clearly depict the ways in which the mentally ill were abused and isolated. Add the added confines of sex, race, gender and class, and you have a tool with which medical jargon can be used to divorce or arrest a woman, or to completely discredit the subversive. 

Huffington Post also has an article on Rockhaven. They mention subversion as a risk for institutionalization:
Appalled not just by the inhumane living conditions, innate structural violence and abusive treatment of mostly female patients -- those were the days in which lesbianism, menopause, hysteria and even deviating from societal norms of femininity, could get you a lifetime's stay in an institution -- she began to see that once a patient was admitted to a facility, there was no expectation that even treatable mental illnesses could or would be cured, and so hardly anyone ever was. All the while, these vulnerable patients were treated deplorably, often abused and eventually abandoned by the families, and mostly male family members, who institutionalized them.
It isn't hard to imagine all the ways in which women could be dismissed from their lives through inane concoctions as tools of direct oppression. In the Huffington Post piece, Emily Lanigan, a writer who is a member of the Friends of Rockhaven historical society, talks about the role of Rockhaven, as part of a narrative:
"Rockhaven is a really important part of women's history, feminist history and mental health history... Even in our current landscape of women with mental health issues still being marginalized and dismissed as 'hysterical,' the value of Rockhaven's story can't be quantified."
This isn't unlike what we're living in now, this two-tiered system where private health care is a cut above public health care. The women at Rockhaven were moneyed and white. But what of anyone else? What about the rest of us? Forget 1923. It's 2015 and the system is shit.

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