Research: Photos and Feelings of Riverview Hospital

My second novel, tentatively named “The Two Sisters”, deals with some aspects of mental illness and alcoholism, through the lives of two sisters, Connie and Rose.

Rose has a history of mental illness, as well as substance abuse issues, and when my main character, Jack (her nephew) encounters her for the first time, Rose is fairly heavily medicated and tied into a wheelchair so she doesn’t fall out. Rose is a long-term resident at Riverview Psychiatric Hospital, a slightly fictionalized version of the real hospital, which is located in Coquitlam, BC.

Writing Convincingly About Mental Illness

I won’t write about something unless I have at least a little experience with it, and I try to do enough research to fill in any remaining credibility gaps. That’s my explanation for studying and sharing the photographs at the links below. But that’s just the external research part: my claim to street cred regarding Rose’s mental illness and being at Riverview Hospital comes through my mother, Angela Huntley Love (nee Clarke), who was a long-term resident at Riverview for 14 years. A good deal of my portrayal of Rose’s initial appearance and behaviour was based on my poor Mum. My wish is to use the events and emotions from my many visits at Riverview with Mum to evoke some of the sadness, joy and confused feelings that I experienced.

Riverview Hospital seems to be often in a state of transformation. This is probably a reflection of our gradually changing approach towards mental health care and the mentally ill in general. I hope it will continue to change for the better, in order to better serve those people who need it. In my only moderately informed opinion, there are still too many folks on the street who need mental health care.

Photos of Riverview

Here are a number of photo galleries I’ve found of Riverview Hospital complex. Some of them are quite beautiful, displaying the trees, flowers, lawns and sunny days that you’ll find on the grounds during the spring or summer months.  There are also quite a few photos that show the disturbing amount of degradation that old age and lack of maintenance have wrought on the closed buildings. West Lawn in particular, is the most haunting. It was already closed in the 1980s when I started visiting my Mother at Riverview.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bobkh/sets/72157594534559416/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ephotography29/3258999854/

http://www.flickriver.com/photos/the-bh/1067953811/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/shoes_on_wires/4448755346/

The darker photos in these collections reflect, to me, the downsizing, decentralization and relocation of hundreds of patients during the 80s and 90s.

Showing these darker images is not intended to stigmatize mental illness in any way, but instead to show how our major institution has changed over time. The images also helped me to connect with feelings of despair, sadness or loss that I once felt for my Mother. That is real too.

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