An essential part of coming to live in the proposed intentional community at Riverview, if you don’t have a serious mental illness yourself, will be taking an intensive orientation course on serious mental illness. The purpose: to provide you with an understanding of what many of your neighbours will have gone through in the past (in the acute stages of their illness), the struggles they may be having with their ongoing chronic symptoms, how best to respond and communicate with them, and generally to help develop an awareness of what it’s like being seriously mentally ill so that misunderstanding doesn’t get in the way of enjoying each other’s presence and humanity.
The understanding is also necessary to help people having a relapse – they’ll be neighbours and friends – get the assistance they need. Relapses might not happen often, but in a community where many have a mental illness, the odd relapse is likely to occur.
A useful example of such a course is one developed for family members with a mentally ill relative called “Family-to-Family.” It’s an 8-session course (previously 12 sessions), taught from prepared materials by peer family members themselves. The course was put together by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in the U.S. and has been a life-saver for family members trying to cope with, and help, their ill loved ones, especially through the acute, psychotic phase of their illness but also in the recovery and rehabilitation stages as well.
The course covers symptoms and diagnosis, how illnesses like schizophrenia affect the brain, the impact on the ill person, how to handle crises, how medication works, practical interpersonal skills for family members like communication and empathy, and the recovery stage.
The course for residents of Riverview Village wouldn’t follow the same kind of curriculum but would be developed specifically for understanding and better relating to one’s neighbours in the Village – people who will have gone through the acute, psychotic stage of their illness; been treated in hospital and stabilized; reconstructed their sense of self, and now are neighbours and friends living and participating in the community.