Mike Jay, April 5, 2015
Therapeutic communities for those suffering from mental illness have a long and remarkable history. I have made a particular study of Geel, a town in Belgium which has taken the mentally unwell into the care of local families since medieval times. Its model was widely adopted across Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and remains a proud tradition today. There is abundant evidence that being supported by a wider community is beneficial for many sufferers: in the old adage often quoted in Geel, ‘care is cure’. The main problem, today more than ever, is finding those with the will, commitment and expertise to design and realise a community in which the mentally unwell can be accommodated. Riverview Village proposes an ‘intentional community’ to which this goal would be integral. Such a community would offer great prospects to all involved. The seriously ill residents will be able to lead a life that would be impossible for them to sustain elsewhere, and which for many will be their best chance of fulfillment and happiness. Psychiatric and care services will be enriched with new therapeutic options, and the chance to develop groundbreaking models of care. The non-mentally ill residents will be residents and partners in a community brought together and bonded by its ethos of mutual support. This is a bold and valuable initiative that deserves all possible encouragement.
Mike Jay is a UK writer and cultural historian, and author of a feature article on Geel, Belgium, “The Geel question,” in aeon.co. His most recent book is This Way Madness Lies, Thames & Hudson, London and New York, 2016.