Monday, September 28, 2015

Released to the Streets

With the introduction of oral medications, psychiatric care began to change. More patients could be seen on a out-patient basis. There was also concern about 'warehousing' those with a mental illness and the growing expense of psychiatric institutions. These factors were leading to one outcome - the abolishment of mental institutions.

In 1957, a mental health centre opened in Burnaby. This one provided out-patient psychiatric care and focused on treating emotionally disturbed adults in the early stages of mental illness. By starting treatment early enough it often meant the patient wouldn't have to be admitted to a mental hospital. The clinic also offered after care for patients who had been previously treated.

There was also the Broadway Clinic in Vancouver and both of these clinics were given support and expertise from Essondale. In the 1960's other clinics opened in Kelowna and Victoria. By the mid-1970's, there were 30 community mental health centres across B.C.

“When the medications came, people didn’t need to stay here anymore. They still have the symptoms of the illness (just like people with high blood pressure or diabetes), but if they take their medication properly, they can go back and live in the community. We have learned that mental illness is not untreatable. It is not completely treatable but for many people, if symptoms are managed, they can go back to their normal life.”

Dr. Soma Ganesan Physician Leader, Riverview Hospital, 2003-?

Moving from an institution to the outside world can be a big adjustment especially if the patient was institutionalized for a long period of time. The idea of independent living was embraced by many but it took some time to get the appropriate community resources in place.

“There was disappointment that community services weren’t adequate. It seemed as though the plan got lost; people moved out first and then they developed the services, which isn’t the way you should do it. It’s hard to provide mental health services for people in the community; it’s not that people don’t want to but it’s hard to maintain people so that they’re safe and they have some kind of meaningful life.”

Alice McSweeney Staff psychologist intermittently from 1948-1974

1959 saw the opening of the Valleyview 300 building. This 328-bed hospital was for the geriatric mentally ill. The halls were equipped with handrails and floor level lighting; everything was designed for the older patient. British Columbia was the first province to set up a separate institution for the treatment of the aged with mental problems. Over the next decades, the treatment at the Valleyview 300 building would establish a speciality in geriatric psychiatry that continues to this day.

Thanks to the PDF, Riverview a Legacy of Care and Compassion for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill


  1. I started seeing a psychiatrist when I was seven. My dad, whom I had never met got custody of my brother and I and we went to live with him in California from Missouri. It was such a traumatic experience and all the rest of my life experiences took me till I was 60 years old to be whole again. Suffered from PTSD but at the time they all simply thought I was ceazy. What a journey thst was. I'm good niw. Have a blessed day.

    1. Lee, you are more than good now! Thank you for sharing your story with us.