Reflection on Willard Psychiatric Hospital

Photo taken by first-time contributor Karen L. Miller, a psychiatrist and poet who experienced a major depression about twenty years ago. During the last three years, she has researched the lives of the people who lived and worked at Willard State Hospital, which closed in 1995. She has read patient records, viewed their belongings, and interviewed former employees of the hospital. Her work, through her writing, is to give the people of Willard their voices back. Her Willard poems, along with photography by Jon Crispin of patients’ belongings, will be shown in an exhibit at the Exploratorium in San Francisco in April.

About this photo: “This photograph is of my reflection in a mirror.  The mirror belonged to a nurse, Flora T., who was a severely depressed patient at Willard State Hospital in the early twentieth century. The photo was taken at a warehouse for the New York State Museum in Rotterdam, New York, where the Willard patients’ suitcases and belongings are stored.

I feel close to Flora. Both of us were health professionals who became depressed.  If I had lived when she did, I might have had a very different life.  I’ve also experienced confining life circumstances– nothing like institutionalization– but enough to make me feel that looking at the Willard patients and caregivers’ lives means I must look at myself as well.  This is why I was moved to take a picture of myself looking in Flora’s mirror.  We have traveled the same road. 

I feel grateful and privileged to hold what she held, to read her words.”  


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8 thoughts on “Reflection on Willard Psychiatric Hospital

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  1. I remember when they closed Willard, many of the residents were forced to be out on the street and were seen wandering around different communities. There were a few people I knew who worked there.


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