Stories that Fill the Empty Places is a photo-documentary dedicated to capturing the history of mental institutions in the U.S. and the stories that fill them. In 2007, photographer, Ralena Gordon began photographing historic mental institutions across America. In the past few years she has photographed 56 institutions in 28 states. While Ralena has set restrictions on what qualifies for this project (institutions built between 1800 and 1920) there are still many more institutions to go!

According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIHM), “An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year” or “57.7 million people”. While treatment for mental illness continues to change, facilitating the ease of outpatient care, we must not let this fool us into thinking that mental illness has diminished nor the problem subsided. State funding for institutional care continues to be cut. Many of these institutions are being sold, converted into prisons, or demolished. Those that remain open operate on a strict and restrictive budget, focusing on survival of the institution instead of improving treatment and care.

While Ralena’s focus is to document what remains of this important piece of history before it is lost, she is also concerned about the implications of this struggling system of care. As these institutions are closing, we must also stop to ask: where are the people going?