Saint Dymphna, the Patron Saint of Mental Health
Dymphna was born in the 6th century in Ireland. Her father, king of Oriel was still a pagen though Ireland was almost universally Catholic. Her mother was a noble Christian and was known for her remarkable beauty. Dymphna took after mother in beauty and grace and was considered the “jewel” of her home. She was favored all around her kingdom and even my the Heavens. When Dymphna was a young girl, her mother died. Though she was extremely saddened by this loss, she found a great comfort in the Divine Faith. Her father was also extremely affected by the loss of his beautiful wife. He was persuaded by his counsellors to marry another and the kind agreed and sent out certain people of his court to find a woman whose beauty matched his deceased wife. It then dawned of the king; he should marry his daughter who was the spitting image of his wife. Dymphna was obviously terrified by this idea and asked if she could have 40 days to think about his proposal.
Dymphna ran to Father Gerebran who suggested that she run from her home immediately. This is when Dymphna finds herself in Geel. While Dymphna was in Geel, she built a small hospital to care for the poor and sick. Though, it was because of her using her wealth to help those in need, that Dymphna was found by her father’s noble men. This village is still known for taking in those with mental illnesses and caring for them. Once the king learned of her escape, he became enraged and forced his servants to find her. After vigorous searching, they ended up in Belgium and found Dymphna. The king demanded that Father Gerebran be put to death after confronting the king it would be best if Dymphna stay in Geel. The king asked her and tried persuading her to come back to Ireland. Dymphna continued to decline his offer and threats. Still in a dangerous rage, the king cut off her head.
Records have said that the priest and Dymphna’s bodies laid on the ground of the village for sometime after their deaths until the villagers of Geel moved them into a cave. Though, after several years, the villagers remembered their holy deaths and decided to have a proper burial for them. When the workmen removed the boulder covering the cave, they had found that there were two, beautiful white tombs that were carved from stone that seemed as if angels had carved them. When the workmen opened the tomb, there was a red tile labeled “Dymphna”, the villagers thought the tile was placed there to protect Dymphna after death. In Geel, there is a Church of St. Dymphna which is located where their bodies were first discovered.
In 1480, Geel built a hospital close to a church to accommodate the pilgrims to care for the poor and sick. This small hospice building became so popular that a lot of families would leave their sick family members there.. Currently, Geel still provides home for those are mentally ill. Geel has been doing helping those in need for over 700 years. The homes that take in the guests are not meant to be seen as a treatment or therapy. ‘"To them, treating the insane, meant to simply live with them, share their work, their distractions," Jacques-Joseph Moreau wrote in 1845” (Chen, Angus) Although, these people are not considered patients, but called guests or boarders. The importance of mental health truly resides in Geel. Most of those who live in Geel, or those who are taken in say that all their troubles seem to just disappear. In the 19th century, some issues began to arise. This century is when mental asylums became popular and were considered to be places with high advanced scientific methods. Geel was seen as leaving those in need of mental health helpless without treatment and therapy and were given no chance to recover.
I believe that Geel had a smart way of approaching those who have a mental illness. In the U.S., we seem to almost shame those who are diagnosed with depression, ADHD, anxiety, etc, instead of treating them like regular people. Though, I guess you could argue that those who have mental illnesses are treated like their disability isn’t important because it is not physical. The idea that the members of Geel simply just lived with those who were considered insane seems very smart. Being treated like an equal and not getting glared at, or considered crazy can really improve someone’s mental health. I believe that trying to understand and even get involved with someone’s way of living can give someone who does not have a mental illness a good perspective of how and why they act the way they do. A lot of people could learn from those who live in Geel. Instead of shunning away those who have mental illnesses, take them in and show them kindness. Embrace instead of suppress.
Mental health has evolved greatly over the centuries. Now we have a better understanding of how mental illnesses work, why they occur and how to treat them in a proper way. Though, just because we have now found treatments and therapy to help those who have a mental illness, our society is still not as accepting with mental illness as it could be. To this day, many people continue to say that is just a phase, that they’re just making up the mental illness for attention, or the famous one “it’s all in your head”, which is the problem. It is all in our heads, which makes it almost worse because we cannot put a bandage over our depression. The main issue seems to be because the mental disorder is not visible, therefore it does not get the same amount of attention or recognition then those who have physical disabilities. Geel seems to have a better understanding of mental illness, and if not an understanding, but a better approach of assisting and accepting, instead of pushing those away.
Chen, Angus. “For Centuries, A Small Town Has Embraced Strangers With Mental Illness.” NPR, 1 July 2016, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/07/01/484083305/for-centuries-a-small-town-has-embraced-strangers-with-mental-illness.
“Dymphna - Saints & Angels.” Catholic Online, https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=222.