Fewer than two hours’ drive northeast of Brussels, nestled among gentle green fields, lies the town of Geel. Here, the model for mental healthcare in a future without economic growth has quietly persisted for 700 years.
In Geel, families take in people with mental health issues as boarders, welcoming them as new family members and supporting their full participation in community life. Boarders are treated as guests, not as patients, the mentally ill, or people in need of psychiatric help. Hospital-based medical care is available in town to prescribe and manage pharmaceutical regimens and to deal with crises, but Geel’s family care system is overwhelmingly non-medical. The families that make lifelong commitments to care for a stranger who has difficulty living independently are frequently unaware of, or uninterested in, their boarders’ official medical diagnoses.
This centuries-old practice stands against the current one, which increasingly medicalizes mental health and social issues. Instead, it offers a community-based alternative that operates with minimal state involvement and limited formal intervention.
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