For nearly 40 years mental illness has been a predominating issue for my family.
My one and only beautiful and loving daughter became ill at a very early age with a life-long incurable mental illness known as schizophrenia.
In the beginning, all of the attempts that I made to find a quick cure proved fruitless.
Subsequently, her care and treatment was managed locally and she lived at home with the family. As time went on the severity of the illness worsened to a point where it became impossible for her to remain living at home. At that point in time she became a patient at the century-old Weston Hospital for the mentally ill.
Visiting her there proved to be difficult and upsetting. The building itself was in disrepair in numerous ways and treatment for her illness was primarily custodial since she and many of the other patients were treatment resistant to the medications available at that time. Living arrangements were crude and left much to be desired. The thought of leaving my beautiful daughter to live there in such dire circumstances was unbearable. Attempts to bring her home from this dreadful existence would not be successful and her confinement there continued for many years.
Eventually, newer medications became available and my daughter and many other patients were discharged back to their communities since downsizing was the order of the day even though she and some the others were not really well enough to take care of themselves and make it on their own. But this is a story for another time!
Finally, the William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital, which would be located nearby, replaced the century-old Weston Hospital. It provides excellent state-of-the-art treatment for the mentally ill but within a short time the increasing demand for treatment would exceed its ability to provide service for all who needed it; a situation that still prevails today.
My memories of Weston Hospital are painful and depressing. The crude amenities and living arrangements that patients experienced there were deplorable at best. My daughter and family have put this unpleasant memory behind us and look to the future for a cure for mental illness.
These memories are shared not to elicit sympathy, but rather to contrast my recollections of the historic Weston Hospital to the atmosphere that exists there today. I was shocked and dismayed as I read the recent article in the Sunday News-Register, written by Vicki Smith of The Associated Press, about the former Weston Hospital that, in my opinion, brings to light a circus-like atmosphere that demeans the memory of all the patients who were ever confined there.
The renamed “Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum”and trails called “Psycho Path” and events such as “Kooky Christmas” are a personal insult to former patients and their families just as much as the “N” word is offensive to the African-American community and the word “RETARD” is offensive to the intellectually disabled family advocates.
In a crude attempt at humor, T-Shirts are being marketed, advertised on their website, depicting a cartoon character wearing a strait jacket on the front with a caption “I went nuts at —–” and on the back of the shirt the name “Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum” with a drawing of the facility. Also on the shirt are reasons for admission October 22,1864 to December 12, 1889 listing sexual derangement, self abuse, masturbation for 30 years, nymphomania, immoral life, bad company, laziness, worms, deranged masturbation, parents were cousins plus 10 more ridiculous assertions that are more than outrageous. In my opinion this the most deplorable example of arrogant bad taste that I have encountered in all the years that I have been an advocate for the mentally ill.
Every citizen of West Virginia should be revolted by the poor choice of marketing tactics used to promote business at the former Weston Hospital.
The Lewis County Convention and Visitors Center and the Weston business community in general should be ashamed to co-sponsor a business that admittedly is unconcerned about the objections of mental health advocates who oppose the promotional tactics that are considered stigmatizing to the mentally ill. The Weston community should demand that this business clean up its act and get in step with the rest of the nation in realizes mental illness is no laughing matter.
Individuals interested in this subject are invited to attend the next NAMI meeting, Feb. 28
Information is available by calling 304-242-6587 or 304-547-5222
Guest columnist McCloskey is an advocate for the mentally ill and a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Wheeling.