Many who died at the hospital(s) were claimed by friends and family and buried privately…those who stayed and died at the hospital were interred in cemeteries on hospital grounds. Their graves are marked only by rows of depressions in the ground and small, brick-sized stones carved with numbers, many of which have sunken into the ground and are no longer visible. The cemeteries themselves are not marked. While it is fitting that these individuals remain at rest on former state hospital ground, the fact that their graves are not marked and their burial places are not memorialized is also a commentary on the lives that society forgot.
--“From Institutions to Independence: A History of People with Disabilities in Northwest Ohio” (2009)
|In years past, many patients who died during their hospitalization in a state psychiatric facility were buried in cemeteries on hospital grounds. Many of these patients had become isolated having lost contact with family members and friends. As a result, there was no one to pay for burial expenses. In these cases, the deceased were given stone grave markers that only contained a number. Records were maintained that linked these numbers with identifiable information including names and birthdates but in some instances, burial records were lost. As a result, the final resting places of many patients are not known.|
|Over time, hospital cemeteries fell into disrepair and their neglect perpetuated the stigmatization of mental illness. These cemeteries came to represent the disconnect between institutionalization and society. It was a visual representation of how many people were left in hospitals and forgotten by society; nameless and faceless.|
In Ohio and nationwide, projects have been initiated to reverse these indignities by rehabilitating the cemeteries into places that provide welcoming environments where families and other visitors can pay their respects. Hospital cemetery grounds are becoming a part of the community where nature can be enjoyed, history can be remembered, and hope can spring forth.
The Cemetery Reclamation Project is a volunteer effort by the Ohio Department of Mental Health (ODMH), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) -- Ohio chapters, community organizations, consumers and family members to improve state hospital cemetery conditions.
ODMH currently owns and maintains cemeteries in Athens, Cincinnati, and Columbus. Previously, state hospital cemeteries in Dayton, Lima, Tiffin, and Toledo were owned by ODMH but were transferred to new owners during land sales.
There are active cemetery reclamation groups in Athens, Cincinnati, Columbus and Toledo. In celebration of Mental Health Month 2009, ODMH provided NAMI groups in Athens, Franklin, Hamilton, and Lucas Counties with $5,000 each to repair and restore the cemeteries. Since that time, work has continued in each of the different projects.
Just 50 years ago, there were over a half million individuals hospitalized in state psychiatric facilities across the United States. Today the numbers are but a mere fraction. Psychiatric hospitals used to focus on long-term institutionalization but today's facilities support short-term intensive treatment that lead to a personal journey of healing and transformation for people with severe and persistent mental illness.
In the not so recent past, some people were hospitalized in state psychiatric institutions for reasons unrelated to mental health:
As our system has improved to treat consumers with respect and dignity, we can look at how far we've come. In years past, hospitalization in a psychiatric facility may have meant a lifetime commitment. Today, the average stay for a non-forensic consumer in a state hospital is 11 days. The Ohio Department of Mental Health has a belief that through culturally competent integrated services which involve consumers and families, people can and do recover from mental illness.
Today, each Regional Psychiatric Hospital has a burial fund pursuant to the Ohio Revised Code section 5121.53. In the rare event that a person dies during hospitalization, this fund would pay for burial or cremation expenses in cases of indigency. If the deceased is to be buried, their name, age, birthdate, and date of death will be engraved on their headstone. When possible, ODMH takes into account the wishes of the patient, family, or guardian if known.
Cast from shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness.
---- Inscription on Mental Health Bell
During the early days of mental health treatment, asylums often restrained people with mental illnesses by iron chains and shackles around their ankles and wrists. With better understanding and treatments, this cruel practice eventually stopped.
In the early 1950s, the National Mental Health Association (NMHA) issued a call to asylums across the country for their discarded chains and shackles. On April 13, 1953, at the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, MD, NMHA melted down these inhumane bindings and recast them into a sign of hope: the Mental Health Bell.
Over the years, national mental health leaders and other prominent individuals have rung the Bell to mark the continued progress in the fight for victory over mental illnesses.
Listen to the song “Ring Out Hope.”
- To learn more about today’s hospitals, visit our Hospital Services and Regional Psychiatric Hospitals pages.
- Paulson, G.W. & Sherman, M.E. (2008). Hilltop: A hospital and a sanctuary for healing, its past and its future. Freemont, Ohio: Lesher Printers, Inc.
- Floyd, B., Brownlee, K., Jones, T., Free, J., Chelminski, D. (2009). From institutions to independence: A history of people with disabilities in northwest ohio. Toledo, Ohio: University of Toledo.
- Psychiatric Hospital - From Asylums to Centers for Mind-Body Wellness. Full Text Available / PSIHIJATRIJSKA BOLNICA - OD UMOBOLNICA DO CENTARA ZA DOBROBIT DUŠE I TIJELA. By: Šendula-Jengić, Vesna; Juretić, Ivan; Hodak, Jelena. Collegium Antropologicum, Dec2011, Vol. 35 Issue 4, p979-988, 10p
- The Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections serves as a repository for some records formerly held by the Athens Asylum on behalf of the Ohio Historical Society. Please contact:
- Douglas E. McCabe
Curator of Manuscripts
Athens, OH 45701
Phone: (740) 593-2715
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)