Myths, Minds, and Medicine: Two Centuries of Mental Health Care, is a permanent, museum-quality exhibition that explains the dramatic changes that have occurred over the past 200 years in our perception and attempts at treatment for people afflicted with mental illness.
It takes the viewer from a time when the mentally ill— thought to be possessed by evil spirits— were kept in chains and even cages, through the principles of “Moral Treatment” on which The Institute of Living was founded, to more modern-day approaches that included such desperate measures as insulin shock therapy, crude electroconvulsive therapy, and lobotomy. The culmination of the exhibition is a look at present-day treatment and brain chemistry research that will lead to better forms of care in the future, aided by the display of a human brain.

The Retreat's Center Building and Grounds around 1870
The Retreat's Center Building and Grounds around 1870

Myths, Minds, and Medicine is the result of several years of research conducted by historians hired through a grant The Institute of Living received from the Connecticut Humanities Council. Documents, artifacts, items of interest, letters, and old photos were gathered from the IOL’s attics, basements, and closed-up offices to form the basis for the exhibition. The decision was made early on to tell the full story of medicine’s well-intentioned, but sometimes erroneous attempts at finding ways to alleviate suffering. The patients themselves tell part of the poignant story, as recorded voices recreate some of the letters found in the IOL’s archives. An entirely reconstructed patient bedroom from the early 1900s invites viewers to place themselves in the shoes of those who sought care at the IOL.

Myths, Minds, and Medicine is located on the 2nd floor of the Commons Building and is open to the public weekdays from 9 AM to 5 PM. It is designed to be educational and to appeal to students. A curriculum is available to aid teachers in helping to dispel some of the myths as well as the stigma attached to mental illness.
For more information, please call (860) 545-4501.