Mental health progress in central and eastern Europe is mostly ‘cosmetic’, says Lancet Psychiatry paper

Mental health progress in central and eastern over the past quarter of a century has shifted towards a greater emphasis on the  social aspects of mental health, but those changes may only be “cosmetic”, says a recently published Lancet Psychiatry review.  The study looks at 23 central and eastern European countries  (CEE), including Russia, containing approximately 342 million people.

Progress, it states, has been patchy due to insecurity in the region, citing civil unrest in former Yugoslavia, as well as natural disasters such as the earthquake in Armenia. Successful community projects, facilities, and services do exist in the region, it says, but were mostly developed by “enthusiastic individuals” and organisations with the support of international bodies rather than national governments.  The vast majority of health care in the region, it reiterates, remains centralised and based around (poorly resourced) psychiatric hospitals.

Experts from Bulgaria, for instance, reported that the mental health system has deteriorated.

“Therapeutic farms—a form of agriculturally oriented occupational therapy attached to psychiatric hospitals that existed before 1990—were abolished completely, and the system as a whole has been affected by frequent and chaotic changes in policies and financing, which are characterised by a general lack of interest in mental health care and underfunding.”

Total resources allocated to mental health are estimated to be around 3%  in most CEE countries, far below the 7% average in EU countries that were not part of the former eastern bloc.

For all the findings please consult the original Lancet Psychiatry paper.




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French government is reinforcing terrorism and mental ill health misconception, says Unafam

Mental health association Unafam has criticised the French government for reinforcing misconceptions on the connection between mental health and terrorism.  It follows a move by French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb to “mobilise psychiatric hospitals and practising psychiatrists in a bid to tackle individual terrorism” and put in place procedures for an “exchange” with those who associate with people “entertaining Islamic radicalisation fantasies.”

Unafam says there is no evidence to suggest that people with mental ill health are more likely to commit violent crime and the move by the French government is only fuelling further misunderstanding.  Redicalisation, says UNAFAM, has nothing to do with being mentally unstable, with “terrorists preparing attacks months in advance as part of a jihadi cell with the support of ISIS”.  The ability to undertake this degree of planning, it continues, does not correspond to the profile of someone with mental ill health.

The new approach by the French government comes at a time of heightened insecurity following a spate of terrorist attacks across Europe.  Unafam is urging policy makers not to take measures that could further impact the quality of life of people with mental ill health, who, it explains, need to trust the confidentiality, reliability and quality of service providers. Psychiatry, it says, should not be an “ante-chamber for prisons.”

Read the full story in French on Unafam’s website.


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EUFAMI celebrates 25 years with art exhibition

We believe that one of the best ways to get people talking about mental health in an open and inclusive environment is through art –  which is why we are organising an art exhibition in Brussels to mark the occasion.


A total of 25 artists from across Europe (to symbolise our 25th anniversary), are being selected by EUFAMI members and partners and curated by an independent panel, for an exhibition at the PsycArt Gallery in Brussels, opening on  30 November 2017  under the theme of ‘HOME’.  

We chose this theme as we believe that ‘Home is where the heart is’, not only a physical place of bricks and mortar, but also an environment where we feel comfortable and accepted, among people who have our best interests at heart. We hope it will allow us to highlight the role of family care givers and help advocate for de-institutionalisation in mental health care.  As such, we aim to bring artwork on mental health, from all over Europe, together in one room and showcase the richness and diversity of our network, and the strengths and qualities of people with mental ill health and their families. We will also reserve a special place for our founding mother, Gusta Froonickx.  As well as spending decades tirelessly fighting in the interests of people with mental ill health and their carers, Mrs. Froonickx has also quietly worked as a painter, producing an impressive body of landscape and still-life painting.  Her work will feature alongside other contemporary artists, such as  Dolly Sen, and photographer  Anthony Fisher ,  and many others.

The countdown is now on and we hope that you can join us in celebrating this landmark event in EUFAMI’s history.  Thank you for your support and don’t forget to save the date – 30/11/17




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Irish media win awards for mental health reporting

Headline, the media monitoring programme for mental health and suicide prevention in Ireland, marked its 10th anniversary on 12 July in Dublin with an awards ceremony to recognise accurate and positive reporting on mental health.

The event was hosted by Headline Director and Shine CEO, John Saunders, who underlined the media’s role in affecting people’s mindset:

“Research has shown that people often form their attitudes about mental health difficulties and suicidal behaviour through television programmes, radio programmes, news reports and other forms of media. It is vital that we work with media professionals to increase public understanding.”

The  Irish Examiner   was chosen as the winner of its 2017 Overall Award for positive media coverage of mental health and suicide related issues, the   Evening Echo   won the Regional Newspaper of the Year Award 2017 for journalism relating to mental health and suicide and was chosen as the winner of the 2017 Headline Voice Media Award for both its excellent quality and quantity of media coverage given to people with self-experience.

Mental health activist at,   Nathalie Marr, and contributor to the, said she was concerned about the consequences of sharing her mental health issues in a public forum :

“There were many considerations going through my mind. Would it affect my future employability, if a potential employer were to Google me? One of my later articles was actually about this exact topic. How would it affect me to read negative comments left on anything of mine that was published? That’s the reality we live in, with facilities such as comment sections on online news publications!”

Mrs. Marr now plays a role in motivating and inspiring aspiring writers to stand up for what is right:

“Don’t assume that you don’t need to do anything because the next person will. They’re thinking the exact same thing about you! If we continue in this fashion, we will not get far with wanting change.”

At EUFAMI, we hope the Headline event will help media organisation be more aware of the powerful role they can play in changing the perception of mental ill health and encourage more accurate and positive reporting in the future.

For more guidelines about reporting on mental health, please refer to Headline or consult EUFAMI’s Lexicon guide:



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EUFAMI attends EU-level working meeting on transition care

Global Alliance of Mental Illness Advocacy Networks-Europe (GAMIAN-Europe) and the European Brain Council (EBC) organised a working meeting in Brussels on Tuesday 11th July 2017 to discuss the issue of transition of care in mental health services.  It was attended by EUFAMI board member  Spyros Zorbas.

The working meeting, moderated by International Health Policy Advisor and former MEP John Bowis, assembled key stakeholders with an interest in improving the mental health outcomes of patients in Europe, with a focus on the transition of care from childhood to adulthood in mental health services – taking ADHD as an example.

Several initiatives at EU and country level have started to focus on issues of transition, but there remains a pressing need to ensure patients about to enter the transition phase are adequately supported.

The European Psychiatric Association President Silvana Galderisi, ADHD Europe President Andrea Bilbow OBE, as well as neurologists, patient representatives, academics and mental health advocacy groups explored the reasons why transition care is currently suboptimal and agreed on a roadmap for driving improvements in this area.

The perspective of family carers was underlined by several participants. EUFAMI board member Spyros Zorbas reiterated the importance of family support in ADHD.   Mr. Zorbas has been running a series of support groups for adults with ADHD in Greece since 2008.

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Dignity for Petya: A Bulgarian mental health story

EUFAMI received this story from Bulgarian association BGFAMI about Petya Bakalova who is living with schizophrenia.  It was written by Kalina Bakalova, Petya’s cousin and legal guardian:


Kalina Bakalova

Petya’s story:

The story of my cousin Petya Bakalova shows how much more needs to be done so that the people with mental disability can have a life of dignity in Bulgaria.

The Beginning: In the spring of 2015 I visited my estranged cousin Petya in her apartment in the small Bulgarian town of Kardzali. Her legal guardian let me inside Petya’s apartment. I expected to find her living the way she used to while her parents were alive. What I saw shook me to my very core. I found Petya locked in a filthy apartment. Her fist words were, “I am not well. I do not get enough food.” I immediately took pictures to document her dire living conditions.


The System of Legal Incapacity: Petya is legally incapacitated. For that reason I was helpless to change her plight for many months. I could not simply take her out of her apartment for without her guardian’s consent it would have been illegal. All I could do was petition with the guardianship authority of the mayor of Kardzali. Surprisingly, the mayor’s office refused to acknowledge Petya’s suffering. My petition was met with silence for several months. Since Petya’s was kept locked I could not even see her. She continued to endure inhumane living conditions. She stayed locked, dirty and hungry.

The public outcry: In my desperation, I turned to the general public for support. I created a facebook page named The Voice of Petya. In addition, two lawyers – Dima Georgieva and Aneta Genova – began working on Petya’s case pro bono. The Bulgarian National Radio broadcasted Petya’s story and was able to procure several interviews with the mayor’s administration. Meanwhile, Petya had no voice. The mayor’s administration presented her as violent and dangerous. Her mental disability was used to justify the horrendous living conditions she was enduring.

The climax: About half a year after I first entered Petya’s apartment, her guardian gave in to the public pressure and gave up her guardianship. The mayor appointed me as Petya’s guardian. I had no choice but to become part of the Bulgarian system of legal incapacity. For the one and a half years that we have spent together, Petya has made tremendous progress. At the beginning she had lost track of time. She did not know what year it was and how old she was. She hardly spoke. Currently, she can have a meaningful conversation. She has a personal assistant as part of one of the several social rehabilitation programs she participates in. She likes going to the park and sitting on a bench. She likes corn, but hates tomatoes. She loves old Bulgarian pop songs and dislikes rock. Amazingly, she has no place for hate in her heart. She seeks no revenge for the past.

The aftermath: The system of legal incapacity in Bulgaria needs to change. It is a system that enables gross abuse. Furthermore, social attitudes need to change. Petya was for a long time victim to stigmatic misconceptions. It was so very easy for her to be presented as aggressive and lacking self awareness. Most importantly, society should switch its focus from controlling and isolating to supporting and integrating the people with mental disability.

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EUFAMI welcomes UN Special Rapporteur Report on Mental Health and Human Rights

The recently published UN Report of the Special Rapporteur on Mental Health and Human rights expresses several concerns surrounding the rights of persons with mental ill health, such as the chronic underfunding of mental health services around the world, stigmatisation and discrimination of persons with mental ill health, and the need to shift from institutional care settings to community-based care.

Discrimination negatively affects availability of and access to mental health services. Persons experience multiple and intersectoral forms of discrimination, which may deter them from seeking aid or enjoying high-quality services. Discrimination in everyday life, such as in schools, or the workspace, may harm the formation of healthy relationships, which detrimentally impacts mental health. Also, the Report adds, the role of diagnosis and its impact on the person’s life has to be recognised in the context of stigmatisation and labelling.

The UN Special Rapporteur encourages the use of the psychosocial model by service providers, researchers, and in medical education. The psychosocial model builds from the biomedical model and looks beyond biological determinants to also take social determinants of mental ill health into account.

The report highlights that globally, mental health expenditure is dwarfed by physical health expenditure. The funding gap between higher- and lower- to middle-income countries was also highlighted; mental health expenditure is much higher on per-capita terms in the high-income world.

Additionally, institutionalisation and segregated mental health facilities are reported as concerning because they contribute to stigmatisation, and in certain cases violate the human rights of persons in the facilities. Facilities are understaffed in many countries, facing shortages of specialist and non-specialist staff.

The accessibility of mental health services is another factor; in low- and middle-income countries, services are found around cities and urbanised regions, with low availability in urban regions. Segregation of mental health services perpetuate this gap, as it further geographically concentrates the availability of services.

EUFAMI supports the holistic, multifaceted approach to diagnosis, treatment, and research in mental health, looking beyond a purely biomedical model to take social determinants into account as well. Mental health is in the space between persons, and one of the reasons why we continue advocate for inclusion of users, family members, and other social contacts in the care team as active participants. We strongly support the transitioning to community-based care settings, provided that de-institutionalisation is not used as a pure cost-cutting mechanism and investments are made in community support services, including for family carers.

We therefore welcome the report as an additional tool for advocacy towards a wide range of accessible mental health services for users and families, involving them as active participants.

Read report: Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health

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A family perspective on services for persons living with schizophrenia

At the conclusion of the European Brain Council’s study on the “Value of Treatment for Brain Disorders” (VoT project) EUFAMI is proud to present the report of its contribution to the schizophrenia case study.

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