EUFAMI hosts Annual General Meeting and Participation Day

The Board of Directors and delegates from 23 member associations gathered in Leuven between 9-11 June  to attend the Annual General Meeting and the Participation Day.

Over 30 participants in total took part, including new members Familiarmente (PT), EDRA, EPIONI and PEPSAEE (GR) and Adriana Nikolova from prospective member BGFAMI. Charles Harman from US sister organisation NAMI and Yoram Cohen from patient organisation GAMIAN Europe, as well as two of our funders,  joined us for the reception kicking off our #EUFAMI25 celebration year.

It was also an opportunity for members with voting rights to elect the Board of Directors. Vice-President Martine Frager-Berlet of UNAFAM, France was re-elected, as was Spyros Zorbas from Greece, both for their final 3-year term. To complete the number of 9 Board members, Kevin Jones of Shine, Ireland and Eulalia Pereira of ENCONTRAR+SE, Portugal, were newly elected.

Other members reached the end of their mandates.  After 9 years of excellent service on our Board, it was time to say goodbye to former Vice-President Connie Magro (MHA, Malta) and former Treasurer John Saunders (Shine, Ireland).

As part of the Participation Day on 10 June, Elena Balestra at the European Patients’ Forum (EPF) gave a presentation about its #Access2030 campaign on universal health coverage.  This was followed by EUFAMI Secretary General Aagje Ieven, who presented a report on access to services from a mental health perspective.  EUFAMI’s Communications Officer Paul Nolan also gave an overview of the social media landscape connected to mental health and put forward proposals for EUFAMI’s 25th anniversary celebrations later in 2017.

The working weekend ended with a debate on setting the agenda for the months ahead and talking points around mental health, access to services, and the role of family carers.

EUFAMI wishes to thank all members and partners for contributing to the debate and looks forward to continued collaboration in the year ahead.  Pictures of the event can be found in our Flickr photo album.

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Commitments on mental health in the UK must add up to more than words

Public Affairs Officer at Rethink Mental Illness Rory Weal told EUFAMI that it is concerned that pledges on mental health across the political spectrum may amount to little once the dust settles after the UK elections on 8 June.

The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all made mental health a key issue in their recent manifestos.

“Over the last few months and years, mental health has become the ‘issue of the moment’, with many politicians across political parties making commitments to improving attitudes and services.” (Rory Weal)

In total, the manifestos of the three largest parties collectively contain 75 references to mental health — 70 more than the respective manifestos in 2010, excluding the indexes, according to Ed Pinkney writing for the Huff Post.

Campaign promises on mental health

In the UK, it seems that politicians have at least recognised the need to update mental health services, including some concrete pledges.

The Conservatives have announced the provision of 10,000 more NHS mental health staff by 2020 and refer to the “mental health gap”. They promise to introduce the first Mental Health Bill in 35 years and to “put parity of esteem at the heart of treatment”.

 

Labour, in its manifesto, says it will invest in early intervention, ensure access to services, but also make improvements to those services.

 

As for the Liberal Democrats, they have looked further afield for fresh ideas, such as the Australian ‘headspace’ model for a dedicated service for children and young people.

Rethink Mental Illness is concerned, however, that the issue, though prominent now, risks falling off the agenda once the new government is installed.

“Commitments on mental health must add up to more than words on a page. After 8 June it will be up to the next government to work on all of these areas and deliver actual change for people living with mental illness” (Rory Weal)

Others are also sceptical. Mark Brown, the former editor of the One in Four mental health magazine suggests that a renewed focus on mental health might not be wholly genuine.

“This gap between public goodwill and detailed knowledge makes mental health the perfect area for a politician who wishes to be seen to be doing unequivocal good. People with mental health difficulties are the new innocent and untainted victims.” (Mark Brown)

Despite commending the renewed interest on the issue, Rethink Mental Illness also says it is eagerly waiting for the pledges to become a reality. Rory Weal says he hopes the next government will commit to “fair access to mental health services and support, a Mental Health Act fit for tomorrow, closing the mental health employment gap, and ensuring a place to call home for everyone with severe mental illness.”

Actions not words

At EUFAMI, we are also pleased that the UK is putting mental health firmly on the agenda and look forward to seeing concrete action in place that will benefit the person with mental ill health as well as the families of those affected. We will continue to monitor and collect best practices from the UK and across Europe.

Whoever wins the elections, we hope the promises are more than just words.

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EUFAMI fights to put health at core of the EU

39 organisations have written to President Juncker asking him to reaffirm health as one of the core responsibilities of the EU in the current debate about the future of Europe.  EUFAMI has joined its colleagues in signing the letter calling for an urgent meeting:

6 June 2017

 

To: Jean-Claude Juncker, President, European Commission

cc: Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President, European Commission

Vytenis Andruikaitis, Commissioner, DG Health & Food Safety

Günther Oettinger, Commissioner, DG Budget & Human Resources

Carlos Moedas, Commissioner, Research, Science & Innovation

 

EU Health Collaboration is crucial for Europe’s future

Dear President Juncker,

We, the undersigned organisations, representing EU health stakeholders, wish to express our grave concern about the future of health in European policies and programmes, in the light of your White Paper on the Future of Europe, and propose an urgent meeting with you and your services on this topic.

Our determined view, shared by the vast majority of EU citizens, is that health is absolutely and unequivocally a core business of the EU. Protection of a high level of human health and wellbeing is entrenched in the Treaties of the European Union.[1] EU collaboration in the field of health is indispensable for the future of Europe and rebuilding the trust of citizens in the European Union. We need more health to unlock the full potential of economic and social policies.

70% of Europeans want the EU to do more for health, according to the most recent Eurobarometer survey. With such a strong, unequivocal demand from EU citizens for more action in the field of health, it is essential that this is not only maintained, but actually enhanced. The EU needs to continue deliver results that make a tangible difference in the daily lives of its citizens and thus re-establish people’s trust in its institutions.

Health protection and improvement is a great success story of the European Union

Life expectancy is rising across the EU.  Accession to the Union is positively correlated with health gains and longer lives. Without EU level action and support of the Health Programme, EU citizens would be more at risk from health threats. Whilst there is a need for continuous improvement, protection standards for patients, consumers and workers are amongst the highest in the world, thanks to EU legislation. Indeed, European integration and collaboration has brought great benefits for our health and provides vital resources for our health services: free movement of health professionals, health technologies and patients. We are assured of our right to treatment in other member states, under common minimum safety and quality standards. We are also reassured that, thanks to cross-border collaboration, highly specialised expertise will be shared across borders, as the EU has just embarked in one of its most promising transnational initiatives, the European Reference Networks for Highly Complex and Rare Diseases – an area not only where EU-wide strategies are effective, but also where the added value of EU action is striking.

 

This is thanks to EU legislation, rights and protections which complement national laws.

It is impossible to imagine a functioning internal market which does not consider and protect the health of its citizens, patients and consumers. Economic growth can only be built by healthy and resilient populations.

EU coordinated health action saves lives and reduces the burden of disease

By facilitating closer cooperation, the EU has saved countless citizens’ lives and contributed to their improvement. The Health Programme is a vital enabler for health policy formulation and for effective implementation and it has, over several years, triggered shared good practices on complex health topics for which EU cooperation is essential (such as patient safety and quality of care), encouraging upward convergence.

The conclusions of the previous Health Programme evaluation were extremely positive, with evidence of its impact beyond its relatively modest (financial) size, and exchange of knowledge and experience between member states which would not otherwise have taken place. Moreover, it “made it possible to develop many activities… where the economic situation and budget restrictions would not have allowed them to be made a priority” – now more critical than ever, when national health budgets are under even more pressure. The Programme was seen as providing value for money, and particularly important for ensuring a human rights-based approach to health policy.

We are therefore profoundly concerned that some of the scenarios in your White Paper on the Future of Europe would even consider reducing European action, cooperation and legislation and to step back from the protection and improvement of our health in Europe.

Instead, this role must be enhanced in the future through a new robust and ambitious Health Programme, convening member states to cooperate on health, underpinning vital collaboration with other institutions such as WHO and OECD and supporting health research.

Unprecedented health and social challenges can only be tackled at a European level

There has never been a stronger case, or a more vital moment for Europe to work together to protect our health.

Whilst life-expectancy has improved, the years gained are often lived in relatively poorer health due to the proliferation of preventable chronic diseases, compounded by huge disparities that persist within and between member states. Average life expectancy is 12 years shorter for a man in Lithuania than in Italy. Discrimination and inequality remains widespread when it comes to access to healthy living conditions and healthcare. For example, the lives of Roma people and refugees are expected to be 10 years shorter than national averages and homeless women in Europe die on average at just 43 years of age because of the multiple health disadvantages they face. The Lisbon Strategy included a target of adding two healthy life years across the EU by 2020, a target that still needs to be met.

Europe is facing important health threats which must become a top priority for this Commission. Our precious, life-saving antibiotics are declining in effectiveness. Antimicrobial resistance is taking hold more rapidly around the world than expected. No single country can tackle that challenge alone. Bacteria and drug resistance cannot be stopped by borders. The alternative if we fail to act is unimaginable: 10 million deaths globally every year by 2050.[2] Rich countries will not be immune. Those of us from countries which take high quality healthcare systems for granted arguably have the most to lose.

National governments were expecting, and calling for, European Commission support in the form of a chronic disease strategy. The majority of Member States want more EU action for health, especially disease prevention and support to increase the safety, quality and efficiency of care, to aid their own efforts to make their health systems more sustainable.

Common challenges to Europe’s health systems require common action

National governments remain responsible for their health systems, but European health systems face common challenges – a necessary shift from disease-focused, hospital-centred care to person-centred, long-term chronic disease management where patients, families and communities play a key role.

Member States thus need cross-border support, in the form of expertise, coordination, exchange of data, evidence and best practices, and programme financing.

National governments cannot address the threats to health and health services alone. We face common challenges from drug-resistant infections, spikes in chronic diseases, obesity, alcohol-related harm, infectious diseases, emerging technologies, rising prices of medicines, and inequities in access to healthcare, that can be tackled together far more effectively.

Looking ahead: Commit to Health and Sustainable Development

Looking ahead, the EU must not shy away from stronger engagement in the field of health. On the contrary, the challenges we are facing and the opportunity to continue demonstrating to European citizens the added value of the EU action on health, compels health to become a EU flagship policy that promotes stronger protection for patients and consumers and ultimately improves people’s lives.

If the EU steps back from protecting patients and consumers and improving our health it would irreparably damage the institutions’ credibility and trustworthiness.

Therefore, a strong future Health Programme is crucial, not least to ensure that voices from civil society – patients, consumers, health professionals, epidemiologists and technical experts – are represented in policy dialogues which build on all available evidence and expertise.

For this we need strong high-level leadership inside the Commission, with specific responsibility for health. Mainstreaming health in other Commission Directorates will not work without stimulus, guidance, knowledge, expertise, and leadership from a strong Directorate for Health.

This is evidenced by recent developments on the Digital Health Agenda, and the symbiotic relationship between DG SANTÉ and DG CONNECT. Other EU policies will be jeopardised without an appropriate health policy lens. Efforts around the Social Pillar and the European Solidarity Corps are not replacements for health leadership within the Commission but rather, should be highly complementary measures to ensure maximum impact on the ground.

The EU has committed to deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals both within the EU and globally, with a key goal on health.

Health is also high on the international policy agenda – the G20 under Germany’s leadership is discussing antibiotic resistance.  This is because health and access to good quality healthcare and social care are primary concerns for everyone.  Yet international institutions lack the mechanisms for real implementation that make a difference to people’s daily lives.

 

This makes the EU’s role – and the necessity to do more, not less – absolutely key.  This also requires health leadership and expertise within the Commission working in concert with the health community.

In conclusion:

We call for an enhanced EU action in the field of health that brings the EU closer to its citizens, by protecting patients and consumers and improving people’s health. We call for a EU action on health that fosters cross-country collaboration, integrates the action of Member States and helps them to address the unprecedented challenges we are facing. We call for EU action on health supported by a robust EU Health Programme and the leadership of a dedicated Directorate in the European Commission.

We request a meeting with you at your earliest convenience to explore these issues in more detail and agree a viable way forward.

Yours sincerely,

 

Archie Turnbull                                                                        Marco Greco

President                                                                                 President

European Public Health Alliance                                             European Patients Forum

 

SIGNING ORGANISATIONS (in alphabetical order)

Alzheimer Europe ⧫ Association Internationale de la Mutualité ⧫ European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare) ⧫ European Alliance of Neuromuscular Disorders Associations (EAMDA) ⧫ European Association of Hospital Pharmacists (EAHP) ⧫ European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) ⧫ European Cancer Leagues (ECL) ⧫ European CanCer Organisation (ECCO) ⧫ European Cancer Patient Coalition (ECPC) ⧫  European COPD Coalition (ECC)  ⧫ European Disability Forum (EDF) ⧫  European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations (EFA) ⧫  European Federation of Families of People with Mental Illness (EUFAMI) ⧫  European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) ⧫ European Federation of Salaried Doctors (FEMS) ⧫ European Health Management Association (EHMA) ⧫ European Haemophilia Consortium (EHC) ⧫ European Institute for Women’s Health (EIWH)  ⧫ European Liver Patients’ Association (ELPA) ⧫ European Multiple Sclerosis Platform (EMSP) ⧫ European Network of Fibromyalgia Associations (ENFA) ⧫ European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention (ENSP) ⧫ European Parkinson’s Disease Association (EPDA) ⧫ European Partnership for Improving Health, Equity & Wellbeing (Eurohealthnet) ⧫ European Patients Forum (EPF) ⧫  European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) ⧫  European Umbrella Organisation for Psoriasis Movements (EUROPSO) ⧫ Fertility Europe ⧫ France Assos Santé ⧫ Global Alliance of Mental Illness Advocacy Networks-Europe (GAMIAN Europe) ⧫ Health Action International (HAI) ⧫ International Federation for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus (IF) ⧫ Lung Cancer Europe ⧫ (LuCE) ⧫ Mental Health Europe (MHE) ⧫ Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) ⧫ Rare Diseases Europe (Eurordis) ⧫ Retina International ⧫ Royal College of Physicians (RCP London) ⧫ Smoke Free Partnership (SFP)

 

 

 

[1] Article 168(1) TFEU requires that ‘A high level of human health protection shall be ensured in the definition and implementation of all Union policies and activities.’ This ‘mainstreaming’ obligation can also be found in Article 114(3) TFEU, and has been further reinforced following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, by Article 9 TFEU and Article 35 of the EU Charter.

[2] Review on Antimicrobial Resistance: https://amr-review.org/home

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Informal carers ‘Track’ conference to be held on 21 June

Informal carers are the focus of a TRACK (for TRAining and recognition of informal Carers’ sKills) conference to be held on 21 June. The event brings together over 100 participants from multiple field of expertise, including ​informal carers, EU Institutions, ​European organisations, Vocational Education and Training providers, ​​regional and local authorities​,​ social partners, ​services providers, associations​, NGOs, ​researchers ​​and the partners of the project. It aims to provide assistance and support for carers by helping them return to the labour market.

THE CONTEXT

Informal carers are people who provide care (usually unpaid) to someone with a chronic illness, a disability or any other long-lasting health or care needs, outside of a professional or formal framework. Informal carers across the EU provide over 80% of all care, with women providing approximately two thirds of care mainly as daughters (in law) and wives/partners. While caring for a relative can be source of personal satisfaction, it brings also its own set of challenges and difficulties. Indeed, the quality of life of carers is generally poorer than for society as a whole. Being a carer is often associated with poverty, isolation, frustration, ill health and depression. Informal carers often face the specific difficulties attached to dementia without benefiting from adequate support. Informal carers of working age face significant difficulties to remain active on the labour market. Learning opportunities, in particular when embedded in a range of support services, are highly valued by informal carers, and recommended by health professionals, vocational training professionals as well as academic research. However, evidence shows that informal carers face a multiplicity of obstacles preventing them from accessing training, including a lack of information, self-awareness, opportunities at disposal and limited availability due to their caring responsibilities. The development of online support and training offers new ways to reach out to informal carers and provide them with new opportunities.

For more information on the event that will include speakers from Eurocarers, Iperia and EFFE, please view the programme

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New milestone for Joint Statement on mental health

A total of 20 organisations have signed the Joint Statement that emerged from the Mental Health network on the European health Policy Platform.

We believe that this is an important milestone, which we should all celebrate.

EUFAMI Secretary General Aagje Ieven had the occasion to present the  statement  during the EP Interest Group on Carers on April 11th and again, alongside MHE, during the Public Policy Exchange event on “Mental Health in Europe: Promoting Equal Opportunities and Social Participation” on April 12th.

We understand the next step will be for us to present the statement to EC staff members responsible for mental health across the different DG’s.

We also look forward to bringing all 20 signatories around the table to discuss how we could cooperate to ensure that our recommendations are picked up.

Once again, we sincerely thank MHE and all the signatories for their support and cooperation.

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EUFAMI welcomes commitments enshrined in EU’s Social Pillar

The European Commission recently made public the EU Social Pillar of Rights in the form of a Recommendation listing 20 key principles which should drive the EU’s social policy agenda in the future. The Social Pillar aims to strengthen the common market by stimulating upward convergence between the social and welfare systems of the Member States.
EUFAMI took part in the consultations leading up to this action and is pleased to see that the concerns of carers continue to be recognized across a number of key areas. We particularly welcome the proposed inclusion of carers’ leave and flexible working arrangements in the “New Start to support work-life balance for parents and carers” – the first legislative initiative taken by the Commission to implement the social pillar of rights.
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Our Caring4Carers survey showed that caregivers of a loved one experiencing severe mental ill health are predominantly female (80%) and spend, on average, 22 hours a week in caregiving activities – the equivalent of a part-time job. This creates additional hurdles for them to participate in the labour market, as it puts a hard limit on the degree of involvement. Allowing workers to request flexible working arrangements to care for “seriously ill or dependent relatives”, enables them to retain social protection entitlements and to continue to build their pensions, providing more financial security to the caregiver, and in many case also the person being cared for.

Carers who are in a position to combine work and care report a better quality of life and higher self-esteem than those who do not (2015 Eurofound) and as the proposed policies are all targeted to facilitating that combination, EUFAMI very much welcomes every step taken in that direction. That said, caring for a family member is also a valid choice – a positive experience for most with a majority in the C4C survey reporting closer ties with the family member they cared for and saying they had discovered inner strength. Much more could be done to recognize the significant (economic) contribution informal carers contribute to society and to recognize their status.

Moreover, for our constituency, mental health friendly workplaces are key to making the combination of working and caring for someone with mental ill health work and the ambition to make every workplace mental health friendly should guide any future legislation on health and safety at work.

EUFAMI will continue to advocate for these views, while monitoring any future initiatives related to the Social Pillar. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have regarding the activities.

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Welsh associate member Hafal kicks off peer mentoring scheme

Welsh associate member Hafal has officially inaugurated its peer mentoring scheme following the recent opening of its groundbreaking Gellinudd Recovery Centre by Health Minister Vaughan Gething AM.

The new in-patient Centre is staffed by both registered mental health nurses and registered general nurses, and is supported by physiotherapy, psychological therapy, occupational therapy and other services, as well as a psychiatrist. Most importantly, it is staffed by Peer Mentors who have personal experience of mental illness.

Gellinudd’s first cohort of Peer Mentors recently received certificates from Hafal’s Chief Executive Alun Thomas for completing their Peer Mentoring training, which was developed and delivered by trainers Kevin Fisher and Dave Smith.

Alun congratulated the Gellinudd Peer Mentors on their achievement – and welcomed their unique input into what will be an empowering and recovery-focused service.

Read the full story on the Hafal website here

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Meet Andrew Gordon, living with schizophrenia and a UK Labour party councillor

Confident, highly articulate, and hugely personable, it is hard to imagine that Andrew has been to hell and back.  Diagnosed with bipolar, anxiety disorder and schizophrenia, he has gone from virtual recluse – too afraid to go out in public – to public personality, appearing on live television. So, how is this apparent transformation possible and what lessons can he share with other people with mental ill health and their carers?

Diagnosed with schizophrenia

Andrew, 24, was elected as a local councillor in Basildon in the UK’s south-east, aged just 18, one of the youngest ever to represent a local ward. But his journey was far from easy.  He experienced a first episode psychosis aged 14, which he said was hugely disruptive during a period when most kids his age “are worrying about the latest movie or game”.  During this period, he says he was diagnosed with a series of conditions, including bipolar, to adjustment disorder, to several different psychoses, to anxiety, and even schizophrenia. As part of a series of traumatic symptoms, he says he started hearing voices, and would even “whip myself with a belt” and “punch myself in the head” as he grappled with a complex mix of thoughts and emotions.  He describes one evening when he got picked up by the police after experiencing auditory hallucinations.

“I thought that someone was going to come and kill me.  My voices said that someone was going to come along and kill me.  To me it wasn’t irrational, there was a logic in that.”

He says he does not feel that he was taken seriously and early intervention was practically non-existent. It was only when he quit school that he feels people started to react.  Whilst his classmates were preparing their exams Andrew ended up spending the remainder of his formal education in an in-patient psychiatric unit.  He also experienced a new all-time low.

Andrew’s struggled with his weight whilst taking anti-psychotic medication

“I was pumped full of a medication, which had a lot of side effects.  I turned 20 stone, I started dribbling, I had a twitch in my right leg.  It was really difficult, heavy stuff.”

Only at this point were his needs recognised and he commends the Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS) services. He says he was treated as a complete individual with highly personal and complex needs that “can’t be boiled down to one nice, little treatment path.”  But the care didn’t last and when he turned 18, it was removed altogether and Andrew faced another serious relapse.

He eventually succeeded in building a coping strategy and embarked on a slow and often agonising road to recovery. He believes some people are simply more pre-disposed to mental ill health, but says his was worsened due to a series of aggravating factors, such as a family break-up, bullying at school and even a complicated relationship with religion.  He half-jokingly refers to his ‘catholic guilt complex’.

Andrew is highly critical of the way mental health services transition from child to adult care and says many people with mental ill health simply fall off the radar.  After a prolonged period in an in-patient psychiatric unit, Andrew spent many months recuperating at home and struggled to go out in public.  His confidence started to return after a period volunteering in the local community for a few hours a week. It was only when a friend suggested that he take up politics that he started to re-evaluate his place in society.  Initially he shrugged off the suggestion, but later reconciled with the idea and started to reinvent himself as a politician, with an emphasis on the importance of community to bring about change.

Getting elected

As he set out on the campaign trail aged just 18, he recalls knocking on someone’s door to lay out his proposal for a better society where working people are better represented.

 

“I said ‘I’m a local lad and I’m really passionate about the town.  I want to make sure that working class people are represented’.  And he looked at me and he said, ‘you’re crazy Andrew’ and I looked at him back and said, ‘that’s quite accurate.’”

Despite having been labelled as ‘the guy with mental health issues” he says colleagues and the public welcomed his openness and he felt a “duty to speak up”.

Over the past few years, he says, he has learned to manage his mental health and even argues that he has better mental health than most of his fellow politicians.

“Much like a doctor could say that if you don’t look after yourself physically, you are going to die, that’s how it is for me mentally.”

On average, people with schizophrenia have their life expectancy cut short by up to 20 years, compared to only 10 years among heavy smokers, according to analysis by Oxford University psychiatrists. High-risk behaviours are common in psychiatric patients, especially drug and alcohol abuse, and they are more likely to die by suicide.

The road to recovery

He does, however, believe in a form of recovery, or rather a kind of managed recovery, which he defines as “being as content as possible with or without symptoms”.

The first step, he says, is finding hope.  This, he explains, is perhaps the most difficult step as there is no one-size fits all solution. Through volunteering and meeting local people, Andrew says he felt he was able to reconnect to the larger community and ultimately build a sense of hope about the future, even if it was – and still is – a work in progress.

The second step, he explains, is regaining control, which is about getting the basics right; a good night sleep, 3 square meals, living in the present, and not taking on too much work. But, he says, it’s also about the freedom of being able to lose control when necessary.

“I found that when I started day-dreaming during the day, just sitting there, it allowed my mind to tick-over, to process things and take me to really interesting places.”

He says that he still tries to reserve a day every week to himself.  “We don’t give those events the time to chew over so I have some structured day-dreaming which is really important for me.”

The third step is opportunity, which he equates to being able to find your passion, “whether it’s music, art, drama, politics, gaming, building, or swimming.”  Andrew says his passion is public speaking and politics, which has served to focus his energy.

During the interview, it becomes clear that he is a gifted and passionate speaker about mental health and politics in general.

He drums home the point that being diagnosed with mental ill health should not necessarily stop you from leading the life you want to lead, whatever that may be.

The role of family

Family can be part of the solution, he says, but it is not necessarily the case.  Despite having a supportive family who, he says, never treated him as an outsider, he was reluctant to share his experiences with them.

“I didn’t really involve my family a lot as I believed I was contagious.  I believed my experiences would pass on to other people. I hid away from family quite a lot, I didn’t allow them in.  That wasn’t because I didn’t like them, it was because I wanted to protect them.” 

Andrew says he tried to keep extended family at arm’s length but did confide in close friends.

His key piece of advice to family members is to try to provide hope, which he believes is the first step to managing a recovery, but he warns against unrealistic expectations from family carers.

“If your son, daughter, husband or wife had a broken arm, you wouldn’t try to deal with the broken arm itself, you’d take them to hospital.”

Mental health policy recommendations

 In terms of policy recommendations, Andrew believes there needs to be a complete overhaul in the way mental health is perceived, at least in the UK.  His view is that there should be a greater focus on “mental health first aid” which is proactive, rather than  reactive, whilst raising awareness.  “We all have a mental health, he says. So we need to be having those conversations overtly.”  The focus, he says, should be on teachers and employers, who should be mandated to tackle the issue, so that people with mental ill health and their carers are not forced to suffer in silence. He also reiterates the importance of openly discussing the complexity of human experience to help young people build resilience at school.

“We should never, ever, ever pathologize human experience but we should teach people how to manage human experiences, as society is different to how it was 20 or 30 years ago.”

He also makes an economic argument, focusing on prevention, which, he suggests, would drastically cut down on policing, needless court proceedings and expensive in-patient costs. He mentions a dramatic drop in productivity when employees do not take care of their mental health.

More generally, he says austerity policies are crippling local services and harming cohesion in local communities. He believes there is a direct link between the scaling back of community provision and acute stages of mental illness.

Ultimately, he says, “investing a couple of pounds in a youth club would save so much money down the line.”

The road ahead

Andrew is currently dividing his time between his role in local politics and studying to be a social worker. He feels optimistic that he can manage his mental health but admits that there are likely to be difficult times ahead.

He commends the role that EUFAMI is playing in collecting and promoting best practises across Europe and recommends building a focus around issues that everyone can agree on, such as better mental health awareness in schools.

Here at EUFAMI, we certainly value the work that Andrew is doing to show that mental ill health does not have to be debilitating or stop you from leading the life you want to lead.

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