Gill, a city that has been caring for people with mental health issues differently for centuries: in their homes

The city of Gill might go unnoticed if it weren’t for a tradition that makes it unique in its surroundings. This city in the Flemish province of Antwerp, Belgium, There is a unique Family foster care systems for people with mental health problems which originated in the Middle Ages.

A system that was in 2023 included in the list UNESCO Intangible Heritage.

The system is very simple: in Geel The families They are likely to take patients from municipal mental hospitals. For these families, patients are no longer objects, they are guests they live with every day, people they care for, and in many ways they become another member of the family unit.

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is Difficult to assess The effectiveness of this local institution from a psychological perspective, however, has attracted the attention of professionals around the world for decades. But for citizens of this Belgian population, it is probably the lowest.

According to As explained by historian Mike J In a publication of the British Psychological Society (BPS), this foster care system for the town of Gill It is not a form of therapy but “family care”.. For psychologists, however, the therapeutic value of exercise can be considered.

Add the win in your article People suffering from such problems are “typically those who have fallen off the network, who have broken the ties that bind us to challenges in the social contract, who are unable to connect.” Rebuilding these bonds through this “family care” can, therefore, be a form of therapy.

According to the information provided in the same article, today there are about 300 of these “guests”. Hosted by family from Geel A municipality of about 40,000 inhabitants was less than 100 years ago: by the 1930s it was estimated that there were about 4,000 in a community of about 16,000 inhabitants.

A century of history

The tradition has its origins in a 13th century legend, that of St. Dympner. Dympna is revered in the Catholic Church as the patron saint of both mental health professionals and those suffering from mental health disorders. According to religious tradition, the saint escaped from her father, who wanted to marry her after she became a widow.

After chasing Dympna halfway across Europe, her father finds her and kills her, precisely by swallowing her. In 1349 Construction begins A temple dedicated to Dimpna, where a century later would be built A shelter for pilgrims In an age where our knowledge of the human mind and its suffering was, in fact, non-existent.

In any case, this hostel was soon full, so the townspeople started welcoming guests into their homes. This is how it continues till now.

However, much has changed since then. It is no longer monsters that afflict people, and medicine has found more scientific ways to help people with mental health problems cope with these problems.

Today it is the Gill Public Psychiatric Care Center (OPZ Jill) and not the church, is the institution in charge of managing this reception network. Changes came around the 19th century. When the Belgian state transferred this control from religious institutions to the public. From here, the host families also start receiving a small financial contribution in the form of help to cover the costs incurred from this reception.

Mentality change and administrative change went hand-in-hand chronologically: the 19th century is when mental health began to be treated with a scientific perspective (not necessarily with wisdom). That’s when the “Jill question” began to be addressed.

For some of these early experts in the field of psychology, Gill’s system was a relic of the medieval past, while for others the city represented an example for others to follow. The reformer Philippe Pinel, considered the father of French psychiatry, belonged to this second camp.

According to Pinnell, “Ghil cultivators are perhaps the most skilled doctors; They are an example of what may prove to be the only reasonable treatment of insanity, and of what physicians should consider ideal from the outset.”

for Summarize attitudes Regarding this curious practice, Jay recalls in his article a popular saying in gill circles: “Half a gill is crazy, the other half is crazy.”

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Picture | Sally V, CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED