This article was written by Mr. Andy Hagler, Director of the Mental Health Association in Forsyth County. He shared this when announcing the upcoming Coalition Town Hall Meetings. (See Events to learn more about these, coming soon to communities in regions of NC.) Andy’s sincere interest in the Dix property is well expressed.
The issue of the future use of the Dorothea Dix campus in Raleigh has advocates concerned state-wide. We hope that many will share their interest in this topic with our lawmakers and Governor Beverly Perdue.
In 1848, Dorothea Dix visited North Carolina. The conditions for the mentally ill that she found in the-then 36 North Carolina counties were much the same as in other states — ranging from extremely poor to above average — with a census of about a thousand persons with mental illness in jails, poorhouses and private homes. Dorothea Dix returned to Raleigh to the General Assembly and called for reform in the care of mentally ill patients. North Carolina and Delaware were the only two of the original 13 Colonies that did not have what were then-called institutions for persons with mental illness. In 1849, when the North Carolina State Medical Society was formed, the construction of an institution in the capital, Raleigh, for the care of mentally ill patients was authorized. The hospital opened in Raleigh in 1856 and was later named in honor of Dorothea Dix. As a native North Carolinian – I grew up hearing people referring to Dorothea Dix Hospital as “Dix Hill” and was typically said, mentioned in a not-so-reverent manner. There is a cemetery on the campus of Dorothea Dix. The first burial took place in 1859. The last burial took place there in 1970.
Why this history lesson? While much has changed in North Carolina and — with the advent of medications and other treatments — in the care and treatment of persons with mental illness since the mid-19th Century – there are some aspects – 150+ years later — in the care and treatment of persons with mental illness that have not changed at all: persons with mental illness are – still today — in our jails, prisons, homeless shelters, hospital emergency rooms. In fact, our jails and prisons — nationwide – have become “the new asylums.”
In addition – not-so-long-ago in the late 20th/early 21st Century – there were special funds in North Carolina called the “Mental Health Trust Fund.” At least in part – some of those funds were used to balance the state’s budget, not necessarily for mental health services. What is left of this trust fund – I don’t know and this is one of those questions where I can never get a straight answer.
Therefore, with the sale of the Dix property – which is state property — in Raleigh, the following should be considered:
FIRST AND FOREMOST: The proceeds of the sale of the property – if this is to take place — are to go into a fund restricted for community-based mental health services, hospital beds, outpatient services and other mental health services and are NOT to be used to balance the budget or as another revenue source to balance the state’s budget. The funds are to be used to benefit ALL citizens of North Carolina with mental health needs.
- What is to become of the cemetery? The cemetery on the property – which has 900 graves – should be maintained and treated as hallowed ground. This may be a separate issue or even a “moot” point – but the cemetery represents a time in our history in which people with mental illness were – quite literally – “put away for life.”
- A museum should be established on the property so that we do not forget our past. It is important to know the historical components of the treatment of persons with mental illness. The asylums or institutions were a part of the past. As we still do to some degree today – people were separated from the mainstream of society because of mental illness — as well as race. (Find out for yourself and read about the impetus for the establishment of Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro.)
- There are buildings and homes on the property which, I believe, are designated as historical sites as they should be preserved as such.
- Use the property perhaps as a training center/facility for consumers of mental health services, families, advocates and providers of mental health services that can charge reasonable cost accommodations for lodging, meals, etc.
- Use the property as a park for all to enjoy — but do not say this and then – a few years later – sell the land to build a business park, office park or other commercial center. Why should we in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County care? Here is a cut-and-paste from a quote from the website about Dorothea Dix Hospital that should answer this question: In his 1874 hospital report, Superintendent Eugene Grissom wrote: “It was discovered that the insane were not beasts and demons, but men whom disease had left disarmed and wounded in the struggle of life and whom, not unoften, some good Samaritan might lift up, and pour in oil and wine, and set anew on their journey rejoicing.”
As always, many thanks for your support! Again – this issue is just one among many for which we need YOUR VOICE at our upcoming Town Hall Meeting!!