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Cemetery Memorial Dedicated in DC

From the NAMI Augusta Azalea newsletter, June 2009

During his years with the mental health consumer movement in Georgia, Larry Fricks led the restoration of the cemetery at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville. Now Fricks is facilitating a coalition of NAMI's National Consumer Council and six other national mental health organizations to memorialize people who died in state psychiatric hospitals.

A dedication ceremony was held on June 10, 2009, for a memorial planned at Saint Elizabeths Hospital, Washington, DC. It will commemorate hundreds of thousands of people who died as patients and were buried, many with unmarked graves, on the grounds of hospitals around the nation.

The service included a quote from Mental Health America founder Clifford W. Beers that will be part of the national memorial. The quote, "I must fight in the open," was the adamant response Beers gave to the suggestion that he launch his mental health movement anonymously. Individuals with mental illness had long been considered the lowest caste in society. Instead of hiding from the discrimination and the stigma, Beers openly confronted it.

The Gardens at Saint Elizabeths: A National Memorial of Recovered Dignity is being designed by the University of Georgia's School of Environmental Design, under the supervision of Professor Scott S. Weinberg, Associate Dean and recent graduate Elizabeth Brunelli. It will be woven into an existing 10-acre cemetery that inters some 4,500 psychiatric patients who died at the federal facility. Nearly half of those with military grave markers are veterans dating back to the Civil War. The rest are civilians from the District of Columbia with no grave markers. Under the plan for the memorial, metal markers from all 50 states and the District of Columbia will list the numbers buried and at which institutions surrounded by gardens and a pool of water.

Plans are underway for Mental Health America to sign a long-term lease of the cemetery and memorial site supported by an advisory council made up of representatives of six other national mental health organizations, including NAMI's National Consumer Council, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, the National Association of Consumer/Survivor Mental Health Administrators, the U.S. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, the National Coalition of Mental Health Consumer/Survivor Organizations, and the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.

Tax exempt donations for the national memorial can be sent to Mental Health America; 2000 North Beauregard St.; 6th Floor; Alexandria, VA 22311.

For more information about the memorial, contact Larry Fricks at 404-375-1813.

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