In response to:
Homage to Catatonia from the February 11, 1971 issue
To the Editors:
In a footnote to his review of the works of Dr. R.D. Laing [NYR, February 11] Alan Tyson mentions the Kingsley Hall community, which Dr. Laing and his colleagues started in 1965 as an alternative to mental hospital for those in emotional distress. Although the Kingsley Hall community disbanded in 1970 because the lease on the building ran out, many of those who contributed to the original community are now seeking to start another household, in order to continue and develop the work begun at Kingsley Hall.
We have recently registered under British law as a charitable housing association (The Arbours Housing Association) in order to obtain a house which will serve as a retreat for people in emotional or social distress. We would appreciate your publishing the enclosed statement of the Arbours Association together with this letter. In this way we hope to inform your readership of our plans and invite interested members of The New York Review of Books community to contribute to the project.
WHAT WE PLAN
We propose to create a center where persons in emotional crises can go for help and to live. The center will be open to anyone regardless of depth of distress.
Some residents will live there as an ongoing community, because they wish, and are able, to help others in distress. Others, “guests” who need help, will live with them for limited periods. The guests will arrive and leave voluntarily; they will be free to hold outside jobs or not, to keep their own hours, and to spend time as they like. They will arrange, or other residents will help them arrange, whatever outside professional and social aid they wish.
Since crises are not always within one individual, we expect a married couple, a parent and child, a whole family, or other small groups could be guests together at the center. To help resolve interpersonal crises, residents might also visit homes of their guests.
WHAT WE HAVE DONE
We have lived in dwelling-places set up for persons in emotional distress to live outside mental hospitals.
We have made it possible for them to live in our own homes.
We are giving those who wish to work with us experience in dealing with persons in distress.
We are holding lectures and discussions for those who want to learn about our ideas.
WHAT WE THINK
Many people enter emotional crises when they start to discard roles others have allotted them. A person’s role can be his jail; bars surround, and are inside, him. What is called a psychosis is often a person’s confused refusal to comply with others’ views of him. To define it as an illness is to deny it may be his bid for freedom.
To call someone mentally ill and to treat him as if he were ill is to make him play a new part. He can become type-cast; being a chronic mental patient is a career.
A child born in the United Kingdom is ten times more likely to be admitted to a mental hospital than to a university.
When people think someone is mentally ill, they treat him differently. They expect him to think, feel, and act as if he were ill; they regard what he says and does as signs of illness. To tell someone with a physical disease like a tumor that he is ill does not affect the course of his disease; to tell someone he is mentally ill affects him, and often leads him to enact his idea of mental illness.
A person is seen as mentally ill because he breaks rules of those around him; he does not think, feel, or act “appropriately.” The mental illness is then regarded as the cause of his rule-breaking. Families do not discuss many rules by which they live together; they may not even know the rules exist. But if someone breaks the rules, it disturbs them. They may view the disturbing person as “disturbed” or mentally ill, because he disturbs them.
Persons who disturb others may find it hard to get somewhere to live outside mental hospitals.
The person in a mental hospital often cannot choose his goals, his space, how he spends his time and with whom. If he is an involuntary patient, he cannot leave. If he breaks hospital rules, he may be told his illness makes him do it. If he finds the hospital fails to help him, he may be told he is too ill to appreciate its help. To be “cured” is often to be seen to conform.
Anyone seen as mentally ill, and called mentally ill, has a stigma. Former mental patients often find it hard to further their education or get jobs they want.
We wish to drop the medical model for that class of behavior for which no physical cause has been found, and which is called mental illness. We wish to give persons who have been, or could become, mental patients a chance not to be seen as mentally ill, called mentally ill, or treated as if they were mentally ill.
To refuse to label certain experiences and behavior as ill is not to fail to see they may be unusual. However, what is regarded as odd or bothersome in some social circles may not be in others. Many persons seen as ill need time, space, and encouragement to do, and be, more than they have been allowed before. We propose to make this possible.
YOU CAN HELP US
You can give us the benefit of your experience and ideas where relevant.
You can help us obtain and furnish premises.
You can give us financial aid: a donation, interest-free loan, deed of covenant, bequest of money or property.
You can put us in touch with others who can help us.
The office of the Arbours Housing Association Limited is at 50 Courthope Road, London N.W. 3., Tel. 01-267-3006
Joseph H. Berke, M.D.
Member, the Arbours
June 3, 1971