Today’s Solutions: October 01, 2023

In Brussels, those who are struggling with mental health issues such as stress, depression, or anxiety will be offered an unorthodox and innovative treatment: museum prescriptions.

Now through the end of the month, psychiatrists at one of the city’s main hospitals can prescribe patients a trip to one or more of Brussels’ cultural institutions for free—and they can even bring up to three friends or family members.

Brussels’ deputy mayor for culture, Delphine Houba, thinks this is a first for Europe. First, she told the Observer, “I want everybody back in our cultural institutions… but we know that, even before Covid, for some people it [was] not easy to open the door of a museum, they don’t feel at ease, they don’t think that it’s for them. And I really want to show that cultural venues are for everybody.”

The second objective, she explained, is to provide medical professionals with “a new tool in the healing process.” The young socialist lawmaker was motivated to begin the program after learning about a similar one in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, wherein medical professionals have been referring patients to the Museum of Fine Arts since 2018.

In Brussels, five museums directly under the supervision of city officials are participating in a six-month experimental program. The city’s history museum, a contemporary art center, and a museum dedicated to clothing and lace are just a few examples of participating cultural spaces.

“Anything could have therapeutic value if it helps individuals have a nice sensation and get in touch with themselves,” said Dr. Johan Newell, a psychiatrist at Brugmann University Hospital, which is taking part in the pilot scheme.

He thinks museum visits might help those with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, autistic spectrum disorders, psychosis, and bipolar disorder. Almost everybody, he argued, could gain something from it, though he clarified that “it would definitely be more appropriate for folks who are already a little bit further along in the rehabilitation process.”

Newell emphasized that visits to the museum were optional additions to other treatments like medicine, psychotherapy, individual or group therapy, physical activity, a good diet, and relaxation techniques.

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