The Units is a fictional story about a psychology graduate student from Chicago who moves to small town Wainwright to take an internship at Wainwright Mental Institution (WMI). During her time in Wainwright she works at the hospital and, while she falls in love with her romantic interest, she uncovers wrongdoings within the institution. More
Although all of the events, characters, and places in this book are entirely fictional, the ideas came from more than only the author's imagination. Weyburn Mental Hospital, later called Souris Valley Care Facility, opened in 1921. At the time of its opening, it was considered one of the largest buildings in the British Commonwealth. Sources say that, at its peak, it housed somewhere between 2500 and 3000 patients and was considered to provide the "cutting-edge" of mental health treatment.
Historical accounts talk about treatments and experimentation that would be the bane of any current research ethics board. Stories include drug experimentation, "work and water", insulin, LSD, electro-shock, and lobotomy. Other accounts talk of patients who were committed, not because they were mentally ill, but because they simply didn't "fit-in" with the outside world. The most horrifying of stories include incidences of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
After the deinstitutionalization movement in the 1980's, the building was altered to become a long-term care facility and then was eventually demolished in 2009. Before it was demolished, stories of haunting by tortured and abused patients were common.
My summers in Weyburn often involved visits to the large, red-bricked, remarkable facility. Although only a child, I was fascinated by the scope and history of the infamous institution and its stately, well-groomed grounds. I would often feel as if I were part of a movie set as I walked down the long lane that led to the extraordinary structure whose circumference was said to be more than a mile. In comparison to its small farm town surroundings, the estate-like property seemed eerie and out of place. As I would walk, I would think about stories told by family members who had been employed in the institution in the days no one likes to talk about. That place and those true stories were only the beginnings of the tales I would one day weave.