Recovery – Determining factors in mental health

Empowering people suffering from mental illnesses and their families

Over the last three years we have worked with our partner Fondazione di Liegro (FdL) promoting community support services for the wellbeing of people with mental illnesses in Rome, Italy.

Within this framework we decided to organize a conference on recovery, duly titled Recovery – Determining factors in mental health (Recovery – I fattori determinanti della salute mentale). The event took place in Rome on the 27th and 28th of January and was fruit of our collaboration with FdL and the National Institute for Health, Migration and Poverty. More than a hundred people attended the meeting, principally service users, family members, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses and volunteers interested in the field of mental health.

The high-level panelists came from all around the world and included Pat Bracken, consultant psychiatrist and clinical director from Ireland; Roberto Mezzina, psychiatrist at the WHO Collaborating Center in Italy; Michelle Funk, Coordinator of Mental Health Policy and Service Development at WHO HQ in Geneva; Corrado Barbui, psychiatrist from Italy; Paul Lysaker, clinical psychologist from the USA and Fabrizio Starace, President of the Italian Society of Psychiatrist Epidemiology.

The conference served as an important opportunity to focus on both the effectiveness and the limits of the current biomedical approach to mental health. It also highlighted the importance of personal and social factors in promoting quality of life of people with mental illness and their families beyond the clinical approach. These factors include the patient’s social context, the experiential knowledge of patients and their families, and the capacity of mental health services to respond to often complex needs of their patients. Integrating such factors encourages a holistic approach to patients’ personal needs, and takes into account their potentialities beyond the illness. Such an approach underlines the existing need to de-psychiatrize recovery and promote the emancipation and empowerment of people affected by mental illnesses.

Among the most touching interventions was Dutch social scientist Wilma Boevink’s panel on psychiatric care. As a schizophrenic patient herself, she shared her personal experience in dealing with psychiatric institutions. Expressing her deepest emotions and feelings, Ms. Boevink vividly described her long and complex journey towards recovery.

Ms. Antonella Cammarota, social worker and mother of a person with mental disorders, underlined how important it was for her to participate in family groups that were supported by an expert. Family members are key in the recovery process, but they too need to be supported along their long journey.

A very interesting and innovative panel was presented by British psychiatrist Ms. Joanna Moncrief, who promotes a more transparent, patient-centered approach to drugs. She reminded us that psychoactive drugs exert mind-altering effects in everyone, regardless of whether or not they have a psychiatric diagnosis. “Drugs cannot cure an illness because we do not actually know how the biological mechanism of the illness works”, she said, which leads to the concept that a patient’s reaction to psychoactive drugs should dictate doctors’ decisions, making overall treatment of mental disorders less prescriptive and more collaborative. (More on her website)

The agenda also included the presentation of the first results of the “Research on the quality of mental health services provided in the Rome Metropolitan Area” carried out by Professor Frisanco. The final results will be shared in a public event that will take place in the upcoming months.

In her opening speech, Fondation d’Harcourt’s Managing Director Gaia Montauti d’Harcourt recalled something Patricia E. Degan, a psychologist who was affected by mental illness, said: “The goal of recovery is to become the unique, awesome, never-to-be-repeated human being that we were called to be”. This should always lie at the heart of our efforts.

We thank our partner Fondazione di Liegro for their extraordinary fight to promote recovery and we will continue working together to ensure the wellbeing of people with mental illness!

Some online press reviews (in Italian):

La Repubblica

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