Groundbreaking Program Supports People Without Force in Belgium


From Human Rights Watch: “At psychiatry’s heart . . . is the constant threat of force. Not only physical coercion, but something more subtle.

‘It’s accepting to take a sedative pill to avoid a forced injection,’ said Maya, a student in her late 20s who struggles with suicidal thoughts and episodes of self-harm. ‘It’s accepting to be tied to the bed knowing that if you walk out, they will call the police. You have to abide by their rules and play their game. The psychiatric system is overwhelmingly oppressive.’

Like many people with mental health conditions, Maya (not her real name) has spent years bouncing between psychiatrists, hospitals, clinics, and various medications. Her experience had been highly negative and did little to help her cope with day-to-day life.

Yet that all changed after an encounter in Brussels with the mobile team at TANDEMplus, which supports people with mental health conditions without diagnosis, hospitalization, or medication. The only ‘treatment’ TANDEMplus offers is support, in the form of regular home visits to talk through people’s emotions and concerns. They help the person find coping strategies and tackle practical problems that have brought them to the point of crisis, be it a debt issue, help with household bills, or mending ties with family members. They also refer them to social workers or other services.

TANDEMplus’ core philosophy: that the person has control over their own life. This model is unlike other outreach programs in Belgium and could be a model for European countries looking to support people with psychosocial disabilities in a way that respects their human rights.

After a friend referred Maya to TANDEMplus, an outreach worker named Céline visited her at home. Maya spoke about how she was feeling, honestly and openly, and says the result was eye-opening.

‘With Céline, it was the first time I experienced such an equal relationship with a professional,’ Maya said. ‘She has no power on me. She’s my ally in my battle.'”

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  1. “Our work is to lay a foundation around the person that’s sufficiently solid for them to continue making progress psychologically.””

    This is the only kind of reform I can get behind and it’s exactly what I’ve been saying we need in terms of human support. It’s what psychiatry should be, it’s what child protection should be, it’s frankly what our justice system should be aiming for. Our society right now is about fear and control and punishment. It needs to be about caring and cooperation and camaraderie. We’re all in this shit show together, after all.

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