Hearing Voices is a story of mental health in America – one told by those who lived it, and in their own words. The voices featured here belong to some of the most disempowered among us: those living with mental illness, and those denounced as mentally ill and “put out of the way” for purposes of control and coercion. These first-hand accounts, often colloquially referred to as “insanity narratives,” range from positive tales of redemption and recovery, to harrowing stories of deceit and torture. Some of these authors acknowledged their need of mental health care, and some sought it out, while others asserted that their commitment to the asylum was tantamount to kidnapping and unjust imprisonment. From their position on the margins of society, these authors struggled to have their stories heard. In some cases, the author’s goal in sharing their most painful and personal experiences was to raise funds. In many others, the objective was to raise awareness and effect change. In all cases, we are provided with an insight into the inner-workings of 19th-century asylums and the experiences of some of the most vulnerable in our society. If we listen carefully, we can hear their voices reverberating even today, as we continue to seek out and advocate for better mental health care for ourselves and for our communities.

View the online exhibition.

Curated by Rachel D’Agostino and Sophia Dahab