Eastern State Hospital is 200 years old; ex-patient, who says it saved his life, urges those who need mental-health care to get it

The UK news release notes that after his evaluation at Eastern State, Simpson began medication for his illness and began ongoing therapy, which he says has vastly improved his health.

“I said, ‘I’m fine’ a million times. I was not fine,” Simpson said in the release. “But we need to talk openly about mental-health treatment. If you have a stomach ache, you’re going to the doctor. If your heart is palpitating, you’re going to the doctor. But if you have depression, you’re just as likely to not see anyone or even acknowledge you have a problem. That is a cultural correction we need to make. Mental illness is just as legitimate as cancer, heart disease, broken bones and a stomachache.”

For Simpson, who said he had dealt with ideas of suicide for nearly four decades, the stay at Eastern State completely changed his life.

“The clarity of my thinking now is so much better than it’s ever been,” he said in the release. “Eastern State got me on a different track. I want people to know that it is the best place to be if you’re in serious struggles with mental health. I wish I had gotten treated 40 years ago, and I don’t want anyone to suffer 40 years like I did. If things get difficult, don’t be afraid of going to Eastern State.”

“I can’t say enough about the care I received at Eastern State along with my fellow patients,” he said at the event. “But we’re entitled to the same courtesy, respect and treatment as someone that’s completely mentally healthy as human beings. And an Eastern State Hospital, I have 100% certainty that that takes place and I applaud the staff and I thank you for saving my life.”

Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander said Eastern State’s history “mirrors the many astounding developments in mental-health treatment over the past two centuries, from long-term custodial care in the 19th century, to the advent of modern medications in the mid-20th century, and the present focus on evidence-based, recovery-oriented services.

Today the staff of Eastern State provide state-of-the-art care in a state-of-the-art facility to meet its unwavering goal of enhancing the behavioral health and quality of life of the Kentuckians it serves.”

At the event, Kelly Gunning, director of advocacy and policy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Lexington, said in 2002 she understood why her youngest son was “horrified” to be admitted to Eastern State Hospital — and it had nothing to do with the dedicated staff.

“But the place itself was so foreboding and so off putting and so scary that it was stigmatizing for the patients that had to go there,” she said. “Together, we decided we were going to start a campaign to make it better.”

The state opened a modern, 300,000-square-foot Eastern State facility on UK’s Coldstream Research Campus in 2013 that houses 195 acute care beds and provides critical, recovery-focused psychiatric care for adults from a 50-county region of the state.
In 2021, then hospital became the first state psychiatric facility to achieve Magnet status, the gold standard for nursing excellence.

Later this summer the hospital will open its new Emergency Psychiatric Assessment Treatment and Healing unit, known as EmPATH. This program will offer an individual-centered, evidence-based care model designed to address the increasing needs for inpatient and emergency psychiatric care across Kentucky, according to the release.

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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