Mental-health museum may put Salem on map

Opinion by Prasanna K. Pati, published in the Salem Stateman Journal, November 29, 2008

I wish to congratulate the decision-makers who have chosen to replace the present J Building of the Oregon State Hospital while retaining the front portion for a mental-health museum. The museum will provide a unique opportunity for visitors to learn about mental health and illness.

In order to open a statewide discussion about the nature of this museum, I would like to offer several ideas for consideration.

First, there are millions of Americans suffering from mental illness and/or substance abuse. Is there any Oregonian who has not been affected directly or indirectly by these conditions? In addition to historical exhibits, I would like to see the museum display interactive computer programs to impact visitors emotionally as well as intellectually.

I have been a physician in America since 1952 and am passionate about people taking responsibility for their own health and well-being. The line between a healthy mind and an unhealthy one is a question of degree and fluctuations. By learning about mental health in the museum, we can be proactive for our own health on a sustained basis.

Second is to have the museum organized and operated through a partnership between the state of Oregon and Willamette University. The latter, for example, has already shown its expertise and experience by operating the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Furthermore, a mental-health museum could then be a place for research and public education on mental illness and health. A research area in the museum would give the faculty and students opportunity to enter the real world of mental illness and contribute to a long-term positive outcome.

I would like to see this museum raise awareness of mental illness and place Salem on the tourism map of the nation. I propose that the museum be named “The National Museum of Sanity, Insanity and Asylum.”

Additionally, the wards facing Center Street were used for shooting the scenes in the Oscar-winning movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Why not use this area of the museum to display the story of the film, artifacts and memorabilia?

The section should be named after Dr. Dean Brooks, the former superintendent of the Oregon State Hospital, who was one of the most respected medical superintendents of state hospitals in America. Even now, at the age of 92, he is passionately concerned about mental-health issues in the nation.

In conclusion, I am an old man and may be gone before the museum becomes a reality. I am absolutely convinced that such a museum will not only promote health maintenance but be a huge tourist attraction, a jewel in the city of Salem.

Dr. Prasanna K. Pati of Salem is a retired Oregon State Hospital psychiatrist and a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He can be reached at