The Dorothea Dix Hospital is currently situated on a beautiful – yet uncanny – 425-acre plot of public land. The former ‘lunatic asylum’ is now a less than thriving public park that hosts many government organizations in the same buildings where hundreds of impoverished people took their final breath over the past century.
During the mid-19th century, Dorothea Dix was a major force in the social acceptance of the mentally ill, as well as a proponent of removing the insane from jails and to a separate, isolated location. She founded the first mental institution in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1851, erecting multiple buildings on what she named “Dix Hill”. The next 140 years consisted of a revolving door of patients; people with mental illnesses from small depressive episodes to crippling schizophrenia were locked away.
Days consisted of a fixed schedule where patients spent their time in the peaceful surroundings, developing new habits and learning skills to occupy time. A farm was even established to feed the patients and staff. Overcrowding quickly reduced the efficacy of the program, and many other mental hospitals needed to be built in the late 19th century.
The next century consisted of a major flu epidemic, multiple world wars where funding was drastically cut, and a fire that destroyed dozens of the earliest buildings. In 1973, a complete revision of the mental health code was enacted by the legislature. The code provided that patients have a right to treatment, to privacy, and the right to be treated with dignity. A bill of rights is posted in each state hospital. In order to insure the patients of their rights, a patient advocate is provided.
Despite the many setbacks throughout its history, the Dorothea Dix Hospital survived until 2012 when the few remaining patients were transported to other facilities due to lack of funding.