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Doctor Details Life as a Psych Ward Patient PDF Print E-mail
Apr 12, 2010 at 07:31 AM

Memoir is story of institutionalized teen-turned-doctor

(VICTORIA, British Columbia) Few people could spend years locked up in a mental institution and emerge against overwhelming odds as a prominent physician. Ruth Simkin, M.D., is one of these people. Now a respected doctor, Simkin shares her stranger-than-fiction story of life in an American mental hospital in The Jagged Years of Ruthie J.

In 1963, Ruthie J. was an 18-year-old Canadian college student who numbed herself with sex and alcohol. Her inexplicably bizarre behavior, which included fights with police, was eventually diagnosed as epilepsy and landed her in the Chestnut Lodge mental hospital in Maryland (the same institution immortalized in the books and movies like I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and Lilith) just four months shy of graduation. In the ‘60s, epilepsy was not only considered a mental illness, but it was the worst type of mental disorder, bringing shame to affected families.

Traumatized by a sadistic psychiatrist, who was later found to be insane, Simkin hung onto her own sanity in an environment of utter lunacy. Living in a ward with highly mentally disturbed people and told by staff and her unstable psychiatrist that she would be a “lifer,” she struggled to extricate herself from Main Four Ward – the section reserved for the sickest patients - and went on to become a successful physician specializing in family and community medicine.

Horror, friendship, love and laughter abound in this compelling memoir exposing an era’s attitudes towards mental illness, epilepsy, sexuality and gender equality. It also shows the very broken system inherent in mental health care in the ‘60s, parts of which still exist today.

Simkin is a skilled public speaker who gives voice to the experience of both ex-mental patient and physician, offering hope to those who, like Ruthie J., find themselves in unthinkable circumstances. She currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia. For more information, please visit www.RuthSimkin.ca

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