In spite of the current state budget problems, we are pleased that the Oregon Legislature has continued to support plans to replace the state hospital in Salem with a facility that will support state-of-the-art treatment and security for the citizens of this state who are committed by the courts to recover from major mental illnesses. While more Oregonians recognize that these disorders are not simple choices that people make — but rather much more complex combinations of genetics, social environments and individual dynamics — the need to further destigmatize and educate the public about mental illness remains.
A critical part of the state’s mental health system should be support for a modern museum that would provide a unique opportunity for visitors to learn about mental illness and mental health. Over the past year, we have been gathering interest in the development of this kind of museum as part of the preservation of the historic Kirkbride building on Center Street in Salem. The state of Oregon is already in the process of investigating the possibility of gathering artifacts and memorabilia, for example, from the classic movie filmed in Salem, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which could be on display as one part of the educational component of this section of the new facility.
The museum should be planned and organized through a partnership between the state of Oregon and perhaps an institution with expertise in operating such a facility. The museum should be a place for not only public education but also research. The opportunity with modern technology for a multimedia interactive site could present many opportunities to promote understand and reduce fears that many people still have about persons with mental illness. Students, faculty and others interested in advancing the cause of reducing stigma and increasing community attention for prevention, early intervention and treatment could make use of historic materials and documents for this purpose.As mental health professionals with a combined experience in Oregon of over a century’s worth of service, we believe that the museum should be dedicated to and named after Dr. Dean Brooks, the longtime superintendent of Oregon State Hospital from 1955 to 1983 and the man responsible for bringing “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” to the hospital. But more importantly, Brooks was an early innovator and advocate for recognizing the humanity of the patients he served. One of the documents that should receive prominent attention in the museum is the article he published entitled “A Bushel of Shoes,” in which Brooks fearlessly examined his own institution’s efforts to assure respect due persons struggling through mental illnesses in their lives.
Both the movie and Brooks did a great deal to bring attention to issues of how people with mental illnesses have been viewed in the past. Now that we are more willing to acknowledge that most of us are personally familiar with mental illness — our neighbors, our friends, our relatives, and even many of us–we can take advantage of the state’s commitment to new facilities and move Oregon to the forefront of enlightened approaches to care and support for persons who are recovering and seeking wellness and inclusion in society. We urge the state to continue with plans for the new facilities and to include a museum that would validate the efforts of so many dedicated individuals like Dr. Dean Brooks.
Prasanna Pati of Salem is a retired Oregon State Hospital psychiatrist and a distinguished life fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. Bob Nikkel was head of the state Addictions and Mental Health Division from 2003-2008 and is an associate clinical faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University.