On February 21, 2018, George Monbiot published his article, 'The town that’s found a potent cure for illness – community' in The Guardian. The article shines a light on the town of Frome in Somerset, England where the community has implemented a way to break the cycle of misery that accompanies chronic illness.
Photo from The Guardian by Jim Wileman.
The article declares,
"It could, if the results stand up, be one of the most dramatic medical breakthroughs of recent decades. It could transform treatment regimes, save lives, and save health services a fortune. Is it a drug? A device? A surgical procedure? No, it’s a newfangled intervention called community."
The article explains the purpose of social connection for people with a chronic illness:
"The point was to break a familiar cycle of misery: illness reduces people’s ability to socialise, which leads in turn to isolation and loneliness, which then exacerbates illness."
While the implementation and measuring of this approach is novel on this scale, the philosophical underpinning of community as ignition for healing is as old as human existence itself.
Ask anyone who has worked in a high quality residential treatment program, therapeutic community, or other healing milieu and they will tell you time and again of witnessing the rapid healing and growth that occurs once someone who was disengaged or isolated, reconnects with those around them.
The reconnection can be very subtle: sitting on the periphery of the dining hall and then slowly, eventually, joining a table; asking for help getting up in the morning to engage in the day's activities; or joining the poetry writing group to listen in. None of these have to do with medication or psychiatry but have instead to do with weaving an individual back into the social fabric of a community.
Community is a potent force that should not be overlooked for its importance in bringing someone back from the brink of despair.
When we visit treatment programs, one of the most important attributes we look for is a culture of kindness and caring.
If you are curious to learn about examples of therapeutic residential communities that are thriving here in the U.S., check out The American Residential Treatment Association, where you can find programs like Gould Farm, Spring Lake Ranch, Hopewell, and many others that have community as the base for their approach to helping adults with serious mental illness recover and heal. You might also check out the Association for Community Integration Programs, which lists programs that offer community services in open environments.