Such a lot to know.
There’s a small town in Belgium named Geel (pronounced hale with a throaty, Germanic H). By 1930, a quarter of its residents were mentally ill. If you know about Geel, you know this was not because something lurked in the water or food supply. It was because for 700 years families in Geel accepted mentally ill patients, or “boarders,” to live with them in their own homes. The town got a nickname: “Paradise for the Insane.”
I’ve never been to Geel, but I recently heard about it on NPR’s Invisibilia podcast. In the episode, reporter Lulu Miller interviews Ellen Baxter, a researcher who earned a grant to live in Geel for a year. Prior to this trip, Baxter had faked her way into a mental institution, wanting to find out about the therapeutic practices used. She saw virtually none. What she did see: people watching television, looking out the…
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