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Birds fly overhead at The Ridges, in Athens, Ohio.

Southeast Ohio History Center to host historical tours of the Athens Asylum

The Southeast Ohio History Center is offering walking tours of the Athens Asylum. Although October tours are currently sold-out, there will be a tour in November, with the date to be determined. 

George Eberts, long-time Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare employee and Athens Asylum advocate, will lead participants in engaging tours of the Athens Asylum grounds and cemeteries, and will teach participants about the history of mental health treatment, according to the Southeast Ohio History Center website.

Mental health treatment has changed drastically in the past century. In 1955, the discovery of the drug Thorazine sparked a new era of medication for mentally ill patients when professionals realized that the medicine helped patients with mental illnesses communicate more clearly. 

Eberts, leader of the Athens Asylum tours, hopes that participants will gain a better understanding of the medication of mental illnesses on his tours. On his tours, he emphasizes that rather than sedating mentally-ill patients, the goal of psychiatric medication is to help those living with mental illnesses to think and communicate more clearly. 

“That's another thing I guess I'd say that I hope that people take away from my tours,” Eberts said. “Treating mental illness with drugs isn't sedation.”

On his tours, Eberts also hopes to educate participants about the reality of what life was like for patients who lived in the Athens Asylum. Although portrayals of mental illness institutions in media can be misleading, Eberts hopes to clear any misunderstandings or stereotypes that those attending may have about the history of institutions that treated the mentally ill.  

“It's not just a place where they threw a bunch of hapless mentally ill people and they're walking around, in rags, moaning out loud,” Eberts said. “The atmosphere was a lot different than you see sometimes in movies or TV. There was a lot of real care going on.”

Many Ohio University students are interested in learning more about the Athens Asylum. Because the Asylum is usually closed-off to the public, the tour is intriguing to them. The tours offer a unique opportunity to learn about the history of the Athens Asylum. Renovations make it difficult for everyday students to get a sense of the asylum.

“It seems like they're doing more and more renovations,” Andrew Meyer, a senior studying computer science, said. “It's still creepy, so I'm definitely interested (in the tours).” 

Additionally, the tour is an eye-opening look into how far the treatment for mental illnesses has advanced over the years. In the past, many patients were admitted to facilities for reasons that would not be considered diagnoses today. This was due to a lack of understanding about mental health illnesses and treatments. Comparing past views on mental illness with current-day views serves as an important lesson about the power and importance that scientific advancement holds. 

“I think it's probably an important piece of history, to compare it to the better views we have on mental health nowadays.” Shay Mcclendon, a fourth-year studying studio art, said. “I think it could be useful.”

The Athens Asylum is a visual representation of Appalachian history. Eberts enjoys using his past experience working with Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare and his knowledge of the asylum to connect participants to the history of the Athens Asylum. Eberts looks forward to meeting new people and educating them on each of his walking tours. 

“It can be summed up as taking a walk on a beautiful afternoon in a lovely setting, with 20 or so brand-new friends,” Eberts said. “The last two tours were outside the whole time, so I got to know people a little bit.” 

For more information about the Athens Asylum tours, those interested can visit https://athenshistory.org/asylum-tours-with-george-eberts-restarting/ to learn more. 

@lwielonski

lw293117@ohio.edu

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