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Doctor's 'compassion for the marginalized' leads to first-ever book chronicling mental health care in P.E.I.

Dr. Tina Pranger has meticulously written her first book as a public education tool to rid any misconception, myth or stigma behind the veil of mental health care and illness.
Dr. Tina Pranger has meticulously written her first book as a public education tool to rid any misconception, myth or stigma behind the veil of mental health care and illness. - Desiree Anstey

Dr. Tina Pranger's book "Beyond Asylum" to launch Dec. 4

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. —

From overcrowding to underfunding, disasters, limited knowledge and unskilled staff, a new book reaches back 160 years to show how far we’ve come with mental health care on P.E.I.

Dr. Tina Pranger has meticulously written her first book as a public education tool to rid any misconception, myth or stigma behind the veil of mental health care and illness.

“I was approached by Verna Ryan, the CAO of Health P.E.I., to provide a record of mental health care on P.E.I. We are the only province that does not have a record – except bits and pieces,” said Pranger, who hopes by shedding light on the past the future will be brighter in terms of how we treat people who live with mental illness.

"Beyond the Asylum: The evolution of Mental Health care in Prince Edward Island 1846-2017" traces how Islanders cared for people within the asylum, mental hospital and into community care.

“I’m very passionate about this topic because historically people who live with mental illness have not been high on the scale of public compassion. I have a lot of compassion for the marginalized,” said Pranger, who worked in the mental health field for 35 years.

“Perceptions and attitudes have changed incredibly towards mental health and treatments have improved. People could be on medication for depression, and no one would know because they have much fewer side-effects. The focus has now moved into the community.”
-Dr. Tina Pranger

The history begins with the Charlottetown Lunatic Asylum in 1846, located on what is now Prince Charles Drive, which was replaced 30 years later by a five-storey P.E.I. hospital for the ‘insane,’ located on the grounds of the current Hillsborough Hospital.

“It started as a 20-bed building that housed 10 people with ‘lunacy’ and 10 that were ‘paupers.’ The building was mainly custodial, but overcrowding was a big issue and the neighbours weren’t crazy – pardon the pun in the word – about having the asylum in their backyard,” she said.

“While a lot of these places started with the best of intentions, over time they went downhill often because of inadequate funding.”

The chronological book, published by the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation, digs into the dark history of psychedelic drug experiments, lobotomies and radical therapies.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one that gets a lot of airtime in popular culture,” she continued while acknowledging the negative side effects of treatment.

“Perceptions and attitudes have changed incredibly towards mental health and treatments have improved. People could be on medication for depression, and no one would know because they have much fewer side-effects. The focus has now moved into the community.”

On Wednesday at the Eptek Art and Culture Centre in Summerside and Thursday at the Hillsborough Hospital cafeteria in Charlottetown, Pranger will launch her book. Both events begin at 7 p.m.

“Mental health, like physical health, exists on a continuum from mild to severe so we need to provide services for everyone along the way. Even people with severe mental illness can live – with the right support – productive and happy lives. We don’t have to lock them away. This is an important shift we have experienced in thinking,” Pranger said.

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