Dr. Prasanna Pati speaks with students during a visit to McNary High School. Pati worked at Oregon State Hospital for nearly 28 years and had a small role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Dr. Prasanna Pati speaks with students during a visit to McNary High School. Pati worked at Oregon State Hospital for nearly 28 years and had a small role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

In September, a Gresham woman fatally shot her 17-year-old son. Reports suggested that the woman was undregoing financial and emotional strain after losing her home to foreclosure.

When Dr. Prasanna Pati reads about such incidents, the psychiatrist laments the best aspects of the now defunct Oregon State Hospital (OSH). Between 1883 and 1995, the hospital operated as the primary state-run psychiatric hospital.

“People with mental health problems are not bad guys or good guys. They are people with problems, and most people suffer from some sort of mental health issue,” said Pati, who took time Monday, Nov. 16, to talk with McNary High School students.

Pati was invited to talk with students as part of teacher Gary Bulen’s psychology unit on the brain and body. Pati served as a doctor at OSH for nearly 28 years and even landed a small role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the Academy Award-winning film that shot on location at OSH.

During his visit, Pati provided anecotal evidence of the need for the services OSH provided. It included accounts of overbearing, and sometimes racist patients, as well as one man who had a plan to kill his family before checking in at the hospital.

“He had a loaded gun in his car when he checked in and I made him leave the keys to the car as he signed in,” Pati said. The man eventually checked out of OSH and returned to his life without incident.

The key to achieving such dramatic turnarounds was destigmatizing issues of mental health, he said.

“We offered group therapy, family therapy, family group therapy and activity therapy that allowed patients to work on the hospital campus. It was all part of a team treatment plan,” Pati said.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’s emphasis on some of the more horrorific aspects of mental health treatments was one of the reasons Pati opposed filming on the hospital campus. He felt the producers offering him a role in the movie was something of “a bribe,” but he took them up on the opportunity.

Lobotomies and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), he said, were performed in the absence of psychotherapeutic drugs, which are now readily available.

“I still believe there are probably 15 percent or so of individuals who are depressed and suicidal that could benefit from ECT and we’ve deprived them of it,” Pati said.

In the midst of providing students with actual accounts of the things they’d been reading and discussing in class, Pati also encouraged them to take responsibility for their own physical and mental health.

“If you are feeling depressed or lonely – if you have any sort of mental health problem –- tell someone you trust,” Pati said. “Share it with them and then do something about it.”

He also encouraged students to follow in his own footsteps. At age 90, he still walks two miles a day, down from four miles just a few years ago.

“I truly think we can walk and dance our mental health issues away. Start each morning with yoga, or meditation or dance. Study hard, play hard and make lots of social interation,” he said.