Mental Health and Intentional Communities

This is a short entry, but the brief version of the relevant history is thus: early twentieth century, there was an awareness of mental illness as illness, which had supplanted the earlier cultural assumption that mental illness was some sort of character defect. Unfortunately, there was very little in the way of treatment, especially for people we would now describe as schizophrenic. So, instead, there we're asylum (asyla?) where people we're pretty much just kept comfortable and calm and out of sight until they either spontaneously recovered or died. The first anti-psychotic drug to work the way we now expect anti-psychotic drugs to work was Thorazine, and it's effects we're discovered by accident: the chemical is related to promethazine (and more distantly to diphenhydramine, or benadryl) and it was being used in mental hospitals as a tranquilizer. Somebody noticed that when they woke up, the patients had much better control of their ideas and affects, and thus a revolution in mental health care was born but that's really another story.

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This is also not an entry about the hospitals themselves. They we're expensive, often neglected and decrepit, and they housed a problem nobody liked to think about. As more and more psych meds we're developed, public health authorities (and not a few politicians) succumbed to exuberant optimism and decided that mental illness could be managed "in the community" using drugs and outpatient clinics. For many people who had been confined to hospitals long after medication had restored their ability to function in society, this "de-institutionalization" was a godsend, a sudden freedom, but for many others it meant difficulty managing medications, sustaining relationships with housing agencies, poor social support, and ultimately re-institutionalization- in jail. But that too is really another story.

This is about an interesting alternative that sprung up in the wake of de-institutionalization: intentional communities composed of and intended for people with mental illness. Here is an article from Columbus, OH about one house, unfortunately in the middle of closing, and here is an organization that runs two others in Minneapolis. Do they work? Does collective self-management improve the recovery of people with chronic mental illness? Does it at least provide the structure to keep them on med regimens?

I don't know. I didn't do any research. This is just a short entry.

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Posted in Mental Health Post Date 03/04/2021


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