A poignant reminder of lives long forgotten


The New York Public Library featured an exhibit called The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic. When the Willard Psychiatric Center in the New York Finger Lakes region closed its doors for good in 1995, workers discovered several hundred suitcases filled with the belongings of former patients. The suitcases were in an abandoned attic and had sat there, undisturbed, for decades. The curators who lovingly and painstakingly went through the contents were able to piece together many stories of the lives of the former residents. The exhibit ran from December 3, 2007, through January 31, 2008.

You can learn more about the Willard Psychiatric Center and some of the curated suitcases here (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. Please navigate to The Suitcases tab and choose one of the patients. After reading the biography compiled by the curators and examining the images for the suitcase, discuss what diagnosis your chosen patient might have had (if any) based on clues in the record and discuss how the patient might have been treated if they were alive today. What do case studies from the past such as these reveal to you about the nature of mental illness?

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