Paradigm Shift, Pt 3: Geel, Belgium & the Mentally Ill

Woman smiling The way the citizens (yes, citizens –not doctors) of Geel, Belgium take care of the mentally ill in this town will warm your heart and blow your mind. The small town has a long, rich history of taking care of the mentally ill. The citizens of Geel “foster” mentally ill patients in their homes. But, not “foster” in the American sense –being temporary or short-term. Many in Geel have fostered their patients for decades and refer to them as family members.

Potential patients are screened by psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers before being matched with families. Only dangerous individuals and pedophiles are disqualified from the program. And, the incentive for these families to do this isn’t financial –they only get about $13/day (as of 2011, when this piece originally aired). Many feel that it is simply their responsibility as citizens of this town. And, what is staggering (and refreshing!) to my American eyes is how relaxed everyone seems around the mentally ill –even in public places –even if someone is behaving badly or oddly. The citizens of Geel are very accepting and tolerant of this behavior and offer help or support if it seems needed. Otherwise, it’s live and let live. This is all not in lieu of proper medication –necessary medication is still given –although many patients have their medication reduced after 6 months or so, due to improvements that many of the patients show after being placed with families.

We can all learn a little from the town of Geel and it’s people. Their tolerance and acceptance is beautiful and their communal sense of responsibility for their fellow man is really inspiring.

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