Keeping Healthy: The Evolution of Mental Illness Treatment

By Julia Rose

Published 05/08 2014 06:30PM

Updated 05/19 2014 04:51PM

The term mental illness encompasses a wide range of issues. From anxiety and depression to schizophrenia, mental health is a fragile subject.

"The Lives They Left Behind" is an exhibit at the Stanley Theater. It highlights some of the stories of people who spent most of their lives in the Willard Asylum near Seneca Lake. Although mental institutions have evolved since the 1800s, mental illness treatment still has a long way to go.

35, 47 even 50 years, that's how long some people spent in the Willard Asylum.

"People either closeted their family members away or they sent them to an institution and they totally, in many cases, forgot about them some of these folks never had any visitors,” says Denise Cavanaugh, Executive Director of Catholic Charities Oneida Madison Counties.

When Willard closed down in 1995, some of the employees found over 400 patients’ suitcases in the attic. Nine of those patients’ stories are now on display.

"We want to start the dialogue about the treatment of those mentally ill, what was it before what is it now, what happened to these folks, why were they committed, what happened to their friends and family? “ said Cavanaugh.

Just like Mrs. Ethel, one of the patients on display, and everyone else who spent years of their lives in the Willard Asylum, everyone with mental illness has their own unique story and Cavanaugh says it's the fear of the unknown that stigmatizes them.

"People don't want to believe that something is wrong with their loved one or themselves, there's a real lack of understanding and we could be talking about anxiety or depression,” said Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh says exhibits like the lives they left behind spark a dialogue which helps combat the mental illness stigma.

"For us to talk about things de-stigmatizes it right away we can all share experiences and start knowing that we have a lot of commonalities and that will help stop that fear of the unknown,” says Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh says we fear those who are different but chances are everyone has a Mrs. Ethel in some form or another in their lives.

The exhibit will be up until the end of May and admission is five dollars.

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