The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic [NOOK Book]

Overview


The Lives They Left Behind is a deeply moving testament to the human side of mental illness, and of the narrow margin which so often separates the sane from the mad.  It is a remarkable portrait, too, of the life of a psychiatric asylum--the sort of community in which, for better and for worse, hundreds of thousands of people lived out their lives. Darby Penney and Peter Stastny's careful historical (almost archaeological) and biographical reconstructions give us unique insight into these lives which would...

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The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic

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Overview


The Lives They Left Behind is a deeply moving testament to the human side of mental illness, and of the narrow margin which so often separates the sane from the mad.  It is a remarkable portrait, too, of the life of a psychiatric asylum--the sort of community in which, for better and for worse, hundreds of thousands of people lived out their lives. Darby Penney and Peter Stastny's careful historical (almost archaeological) and biographical reconstructions give us unique insight into these lives which would otherwise be lost and, indeed, unimaginable to the rest of us.”—Oliver Sacks, M.D., Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, Columbia University Artist, and author of Musicophilia

“The haunting thing about the suitcase owners is that it’s so easy to identify with them.”—Newsweek

“In their poignant detail the items helped rescue these individuals from the dark sprawl of anonymity.”—The New York Times

“[The authors] spent 10 years piecing together . . . the lives these patients lived before they were nightmarishly stripped of their identities.”—Newsday

More than four hundred abandoned suitcases filled with patients’ belongings were found when Willard Psychiatric Center closed in 1995 after 125 years of operation. They are skillfully examined here and compared to the written record to create a moving—and devastating—group portrait of twentieth-century American psychiatric care.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When New York’s 120-plus-year-old mental institution Willard State Hospital was closed down in 1995, New York Museum curator Craig Williams found a forgotten attic filled with suitcases belonging to former inmates. He informed Penney, co-editor of The Snail’s Pace Review and a leading advocate of patients rights, who recognized the opportunity to salvage the memory of these institutionalized lives. She invited Stastny, a psychiatrist and documentary filmmaker, to help her curate an exhibit on the find and write this book, which they dedicate to “the Willard suitcase owners, and to all others who have lived and died in mental institutions.” What follows are profiles of 10 individual patients whose suitcase contents proved intriguing (there were 427 bags total), referencing their institutional record-including histories and session notes-as well as some on-the-ground research. A typical example is Ethel Smalls, who likely suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of her husband’s abuse; misdiagnosed and institutionalized against her will, she lived at Willard until her death in 1973. While the individual stories are necessarily sketchy, the cumulative effect is a powerful indictment of healthcare for the mentally ill. 25 color and 63 b&w photographs.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781934137239
  • Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 67,929
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author


Darby Penney is an accomplished poet, a national leader in the human rights movement for people with psychiatric disabilities and a former state mental health official who has experienced the mental health system inside and out. Peter Stastny, author of numerous publications, is a psychiatrist and documentary filmmaker. Lisa Rinzler is a prize-winning cinematographer (Three Seasons, Menace II Society, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan) whose photographs illustrate the book alongside reproductions of excerpted medical records and images found among the suitcase contents. Robert Whitaker is the author of Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 21 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(7)

4 Star

(5)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 16, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    "The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From A State Mental Hospital Attic"

    A must read for anyone interested in the history of the mental health system in our country. The book covers the early 20th century up until about the early 70's. In this book you will read letters from patients, doctor's notes, and learn just how easy it was to have someone committed. You will find out that most of the "patients" were never even sick. A wealth of information collected and compiled in a way that is easy to read and understand.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2011

    wonderful book well writen

    i enjoyed reading this book, very informative

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Please Do Not Buy

    When I heard the idea behind this book, I was fascinated. What a great idea! Then I read the book. It's appalling. It was not the stories of these 10 patients--it was full of assumptions about their lives and boils down to the authors' own crusade against mental health institutions. Their posits and assumptions about the history of the patients, how they were treated and what they experiences are horrid. These assumptions truly ruin the book, changing it from the insight into these people's lives into a finger pointing game. I would strongly discourage anyone from buying this book. It's distasteful and disrespectful. As a psychology major, I implore you to pick out a less biased and more encompassing book.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Wishing it had more

    This book had a very interesting idea. The problems that were mentioned were common among state mental hospitals. I worked at one, and so I do know the general history of mental illness and hospitalization.
    I found it to be educational, however I was left wishing they had more information on the people then the human rights issues so common in institutions.
    I did find the story about the grave digger to be fasinating and made this book worth the read.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 3, 2010

    Think Twice Before Buying This Book!!

    The Lives They Left Behind, talks all about the Willard State Hospital that used to house mental patients up until about 1980. The book depicts how the patients were medically treated during their stay, what it was like for them there, and also the stories of their lives that were lost during all the years the institution was open. The message of the entire the book was basically to prove how poorly the patients were treated at the hospital because they didn't receive proper care, they were forced to work at the institution, and most of the patients were never discharged from Willard. There is a reoccurring theme that staying in the hospital caused the patients to change and almost make their mental state worse than it was when they were first admitted. This theme is prominent because while reading the medical reports about the patients, one can clearly tell based on the records that their condition worsened and no treatment worked on most patients.In my personal opinion, reading the stories about the people in the hospital was the most entertaining part of the book. This is because the stories gave a detailed description of the patient's mental health and gave you and inside look as to who the person really was. As opposed to making you feel the patients admitted were just one more mental person roaming around, the book made you see them as they really were. Although the stories were enlightening, the rest of the book made me feel the author was very biased against the hospital. Most of the book is describing the horrible way they were treated and how no one was every released. Although I did feel sorry for the patients of the institution, by the end of the book I felt it was very repetitive. I would not recommend reading this book because even though it did have good points most of the book was extremely boring. I found it difficult to read The Lives They Left Behind because of the fact the author was trying the entire time to get sympathy votes for the mental patients and brought up the same facts multiple times throughout the book. It was very informing but I would not say it's something you pick up and read just because it's enjoyable.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2014

    ANONYMOUS

    This book is a sleeper. Don't waste your money !

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 3, 2013

    Good Read

    I've always been interested in learning about state hospitals, and the lives of those who were placed in them. I found this book to be incredibly interesting but somewhat difficult to follow at times. I constantly found myself turning back a few pages to double check the things that were said (medical terms, locations, etc.) And while I agree there is a bit of opinion thrown in by the author, the facts are there. And I felt that by the end I had become very attached to the people of Willard and I wanted to know so much more. I would highly recommend this book for anyone that has an interest more so in patient life and treatment. This is no uplifting book so be prepared to become a little frustrated if you get attached to people like I do.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    HORRIBLE

    Don't waste your money - it's not what you think it is. B O R I N G

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted February 17, 2010

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    Posted November 10, 2008

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