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Six years ago, Vikram Patel gave a powerful speech in front of thousands and touching thousands more lives due to one simple idea: by empowering ordinary people to care for others. By centering around mental illness, Patel was able to procure an expectancy gap of 20 years in developed countries between “normal” people and those with some sort of mental illness. Developing countries have an even larger gap due to a lack of professional psychiatrists. These countries tend to adopt a mental health care model where specialized health professionals were nearly nonexistent as most practiced a wide range of health care interventions due to a lower cost of service and equipment.
The result being an almost nonexistent reality where there are no mental health professionals and thousands left untreated. Fortunately, countless experiments in developing countries have proven to successfully treat depression and other mental illnesses. The experiments demonstrated that counselors drawn from local communities could be trained to deliver psychosocial interventions for depression and anxiety, with even larger recovery rates as opposed to institutionalized health care centers.
The solution to mental illnesses could be easily found in you and me, ordinary people in the community who can be trained to deliver psychotherapy when needed.
Ken Kesey’s book, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, provided the traditional setting that was seen throughout the United States during the mid-1900s. The novel provided a fictional account on the horrors and mistreatment of patients in a mental hospital in the 1950s. The story was reflective in both its structure and nature of its inspiration, Oregon State Hospital.
The hospital itself was also infamous for treating its patients fairly terribly and performing large acts of electroconvulsive therapy. In the book, electric shock therapy was seen as the go-to when a patient got unruly, a treatment still seen in the modern day to treat severe depression instead of other advanced methods. A modern day outlook shows more direct treatments being developed to treat schizophrenia and other mental illnesses as opposed to electric shock therapy and lobotomies.
Ellen Baxter was able to describe a similar world that Patel envisioned, but this time in a small village by the name of Geel. The village provided a safe haven for the mental ill and even took one more step as in embracing the unique individuals. Residents not only accepted their eccentric or disruptive behaviors but also came up with creative ways to manage their obsessions or fears instead of punishing the mentally ill, something prevalent in the Cuckoo’s Nest. This alternative to aggressive mental wards proved successful as Geel is one of the few that has endured.
Many psychiatrists such as Jacques-Joseph Moreau visiting the village have commented on its unique treatment as “the best standard of practice for mental disorders”. As a result, a burning question arises as to why this hasn’t been replicated to more cities. Further research indicates that insane asylums became norm in the twentieth century as they showed the most promising results and secluded the mentally ill from the common folk. Geel became the source of a great debate in psychiatry.
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