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WVMHCA challenges bigoted name of psychiatric institution

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A private owner of a psychiatric institution wants to re-name the facility its original, offensive name of "Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum." The West Virginia Mental Health Consumers Association (WVMHCA), a sponsor group in MindFreedom International, spoke in the press against this bigoted name.

WVMHCA challenges bigoted name of psychiatric institution

The owner of Weston wants to rename it "Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum."

Original article click here:

http://www.wvgazette.com/News/200803190655

West Virginia Gazette -- March 20, 2008

Groups protest 'lunatic asylum' name


West Virginia disability rights groups are fuming after the owners of a pre-Civil War mental hospital in Weston renamed the property the "Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum."


By Eric Eyre

Staff writer

West Virginia disability rights groups are fuming after the owners of a pre-Civil War mental hospital in Weston renamed the property the "Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum."

Several mental health organization leaders have fired off letters this week to the contractor who now owns the former Weston Hospital.

They say the new name - which was the name of the hospital in the 19th century - is discriminatory and promotes misunderstandings about mental illness.

"It's very derogatory," said Scott Miller, director of the Mountain State Direct Action Center, a disability rights group. "We don't call people lunatics. Asylum is just not the term anymore."

The West Virginia Mental Health Consumers Association also is protesting the hospital's new name.

Discrimination against people with mental illness runs rampant, and terms like "lunatic asylum" further stigmatize them, said Debbie Toler, the mental health group's interim executive director.

"Individuals who spent their lives in the hospital were receiving treatment for mental illness," said Toler in a letter to the facility's owner. "As a consumer of mental health services and an advocate, I'm personally offended by the term 'lunatic asylum.'"

The former mental hospital's owners say they plan to keep the "lunatic asylum" name.

In a letter to Miller, the facility's historical consultant, Edward Gleason, said the original name was selected "to provide a realistic and honest depiction of the era," and it's "essential to include the terminology of the times, however offensive."

Educational exhibits showcasing the "renaissance in psychiatry" are in the works, Gleason said.

"In America, we strive to present our history as it really was, blemishes and all," Gleason wrote. "We are not the Soviet Union, which invented the past by altering names, places and events, to support what had been judged politically correct by contemporary powers."

Miller said most patients who lived at the mental hospital describe it as a "living hell."

"And now they're trying to glorify it," he said.

Morgantown contractor Joe Jordan bought the 192-year-old hospital last August during a public auction.

Jordan paid $1.5 million for the 455,000-square-foot sandstone hospital building and a surrounding tract of 300 acres that includes a forest, farmland and coal mines once operated by the mental hospital.

Earlier this month, Jordan's company announced plans to hold mud-bog racing and other motor sports events on a hillside beside the hospital in downtown Weston.

Last Saturday, the Jordan family opened the facility for tours and performed a sound check for a proposed mud-bog truck race.

Company spokeswoman Rebecca Jordan could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

The hospital has gone through several name changes over the years. In 1863, the hospital was renamed the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane. In 1913, the name was changed to Weston State Hospital, and "state" was dropped in the mid-1970s.

The hospital closed in 1994. Its main building is one of the largest hand-cut stone buildings in the United States.

Additional groups, including the West Virginia Mental Health Planning Council and the West Virginia Americans with Disabilities Act Coalition, were expected to send letters opposing the renaming of the hospital.

To contact staff writer Eric Eyre, use e-mail or call 348-4869.

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