by Heather McKenzie
A psychiatric hospital is a place that outsiders often view as taboo, scary, violent and crazy. There is a sense of dare when faced with the high of visiting such a place, especially at night. Stories abound with the treatment of mentally ill patients, the ever controversial treatment of electroshock therapy, sexual or physical abuse of them – it all adds to the thrill of visiting such a place for the purpose of photographing “ghosts”. It’s pretty hard to imagine “ghosthunters” visiting a seniors’ home for the same entertainment.
Riverview Hospital is still in use. Yes, parts of it are closed, and some of the buildings are in such a state of decay, that it is hazardous to venture into them – unsecured handrails, loose ceiling tiles, uneven flooring and of course, asbestos. I don’t know why anyone would even attempt to do so other than for an adrenaline rush and of course, bragging rights.
I have a soft spot for this place. I got to know people who lived there and called it home. I looked after these folks, fed them, bathed them; saw to their daily life activities. While I had a few experiences of my own that I can’t explain, I really don’t feel that it is an appropriate setting for a serious investigative mission.
Three years ago, I was first amused and then disgusted to learn that a group of avid “ghosthunters” went to Riverview at night to take photographs to put up on their website. In my eyes, they were there to exploit the very people I cared for. They, not surprisingly, did not even know that the hospital was still operational.
What they also didn’t know, was that there were patients who used the single dwelling housing on the grounds as a transitional step to enter back into the general population and therefore, there were patients walking around at night that could be a threat to their own personal safety. And they didn’t stop to think that their actions would adversely affect some staff members who were a tad disturbed by their presence and unknown intentions. I wondered if they gave consideration to the families who had loved ones residing there.
Even if it were possible to conduct an investigation tastefully, (which would a very difficult task, with former patients still alive, the sensitivity of such an endeavour and protection of patients’ identities notwithstanding ) with the thousands of patients who have come and gone from the facility, one would be hard pressed to actually pin down one particular event, or person, research and document it.
Certainly, I could understand wanting to visit such a place, due to its history and the awesomeness of some of the older buildings. They really are quite amazing. And yes, I would concede that there have been some strange events, having experienced some myself; hearing my name called very close to my ear and also someone saying, “Don’t do that” when I was alone in one of the bedrooms. But we really need to remember that although not all buildings are operational, this IS a working hospital, and the people residing at Riverview deserve respect and privacy. Certainly, so do the people who once lived there and died there.
Besides, there are so many other more appropriate places deserving of documentation. In the name of research, why not place our efforts there?
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