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How therapeutic farms are helping Americans with mental illnesses

by Mac McClelland
Jan 23 2017, 11:09am

This segment originally aired Jan. 13, 2016, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

A farm in Mesopotamia, Ohio — one of just six therapeutic farms in the United States — is treating people with mental illness.

In 1955, 560,000 patients lived full time in state psychiatric facilities. Today, just 45,000 do. Psychiatric hospitals were shuttered, in part, because of widespread reports of patient abuse. Now, many of the country’s mentally ill are on the streets or in prison.

Private insurance companies, however, prefer to cover hospital stays. Despite its effectiveness, Hopewell can’t keep its beds full because so few people can afford to pay out-of-pocket.

Unlike routine hospital treatments, which focus on medication and short-term stabilization, Hopewell’s residents stay for an average of 180 days. And they relapse less frequently. In addition to medication, residents diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, among other mental illness, work on the farm, gaining social skills they wouldn’t practice in a more traditional setting.

“You not just get the medication stabilized, but you learn how to take care of yourself here,” Hopewell chief psychiatrist Dr. Martha Schinagle told VICE News correspondent Mac McClelland. “Work is a really important part of our lives, something that provides structure and meaning. You get up because you have not just an obligation to go to work but because it’s important to you.”

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