'Kings Park': Old Mental Asylums Shed Light on Newtown Crisis


This "lateral transfer," shifting the financial burden from the state to the federal government, precipitated today's mental health care crisis, he said.

"That would have worked, but there was no way of integrating these programs," he said. "You tell somebody who has a mental illness that they have got to negotiate between a half dozen programs, they will get lost.… And people with severe mental illnesses float around."

At the same time, states that had pledged to commit resources to local mental health programs did not follow through. "Most simply absorbed savings into the general budget," said Grob.

"The federal government is not in a position to run programs," he said. "It has to be the state and localities, and their budgetary problems are so severe, there is no real interest."

Kings Park, which had been operating since 1885, shut down in 1996, and since then, "history is vanishing," said Winer.

"These hospitals were torn down all over the country," she said. "Their stories are being lost -- cemeteries where thousands of patients were buried are erased. It's hard not to believe that it's not rooted in the fear of mental illness and a distaste, almost as if it is infectious."

Winer suggests that even though society has more tools at its disposal to treat the mentally ill, it has "circled backwards" since the 19th century.

In the final part of her three-part film, she explores ways in which existing community organizations on a small budget can reach out to the mentally ill through education and supportive services so they are not isolated.

Patients still need a place to live and to have transition services and work-skill training.

"We can save lives," said Winer.

As for Winer, she struggled to adapt back to civilization after receiving little training at Kings Park.

"It took me years to learn how to do things," she said. "It was frightening dealing with money and how to go from point A to point B in public transportation, how to use a credit card."

Winer said she is still a person "in recovery" after her early struggles with depression.

"I work every day to stay grounded," she said. "There is no question, I am not standing in front of the medicine cabinet with a stomach full of barbiturates. But at the same time, I don't take my peace of mind or ability to show up to life, for granted. It's a wonderful challenge, but I didn't know that as a kid."

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