PRESIDENT OF THE ASSOCIATION J. HEILAKOS IN ELSiTO SEMINAR
Mayor, dear friends,
It is with pleasure that I stand here among you and that I am given the chance to give this short speech. On behalf of the Association Against the Prejudice of Mental Disorders “Renaissance”, I would like to thank the members of the Greek association of , the municipality of Herakleion, and last but not least the representatives of Empowerment Learning for Social Inclusion through Occupation, ELSito, for organizing this event. It is our belief that such initiatives will help not only patients but also mental health professionals to come in contact, to develop networks both nationally and internationally as well as to exchange ideas and knowledge.
To begin with, I would like to introduce to you our association as well as our actions. The Association Against Stigma Against Psychiatric Disorders “Renaissance” is one of the oldest self-organization groups by people with mental disorders who were users of mental health services. It was actually founded in 1984 under the name “Association Against Stigma Against Mental Disorders : Continuity”. It was ten years after, that the current name was chosen, a name which we think reflects better what the first patients with mental disorders and participants in pilot prevocational programs envisaged. During the same period, the association expanded with the participation of mental health professionals, volunteers and friends who actively support our efforts.
Since 1998, the Association has participated in programs of the European Union and has organized a network of associations of people with mental disorders in EU member states, always with the support of the special unit of Psychosocial Vocational Rehabilitation Unit of the University Mental Health Research Institute.
In 2008, the Association was accepted as a full member of the National Confederation of People with Disabilities (NCPD) and our elected representative participates in the General Council of the Confederation.
Now, we are currently taking initiatives towards the creation of a federation of people with mental disorders in national level.
The four basic principles that underlie our associations are:
First of all, people with mental disorders should be treated with respect and understanding
Second, people with mental disorders should receive information about the course of their disorder.
Third, they should be aware of their social and employment opportunities as well as of their rights,
Fourth, they should be included in the decisions that relate to every level of their health and welfare.
Our multifaceted activities involve the organization of volunteer groups of support and mutual help, visits to chronically ill patients living in sheltered homes, the operation of a mutual help fund and the organization of psychoeducational groups supported by the scientific committee of PVRU-UMHRI. We are also in cooperation with PVRU-UMHRI in order to successfully implement the EU programs as well as to organize a European network of associations for people with mental disorders. Furthermore, our activities include facilitating advocacy for the rights of people with mental disorders, participating in scientific conferences and workshops to sensitize the community in mental illness, while being actively involved in the design and organization of other similar associations.
Our greater contribution is, however, the design of actions to facilitate socialization and mutual help groups, like the operation of an afternoon social club, the development of volunteer groups as well as the organization of events to raise community awareness, like art exhibitions.
Our association provides every possible mean of support in its members, enhances the mutual help ties among patients, while developing measures to combat all forms of prejudice, social rejection and isolation associated with mental disorders. Apart from minimizing social stigma, it is our strong belief that the key word that characterizes the operation of our association is mutual help. A notion whose meaning becomes more apparent especially in times like these, when the self organization of the receivers of mental health services is the last mean of defense.
As you all know our country is in the middle of an economic crisis, just when psychiatric reform had achieved its first goals. We are all worried that initiatives that have progressed will stale while others will be cancelled. Issues, like involuntary hospitalization, the treatment of police officers that moderate such operations, the living and hospitalization conditions in mental health hospitals, as well as the absence of psychiatric structures in the community, are still in the center of our attention. The recent events with the institution in Lechaina, ie the inhuman living conditions and the two deaths of patients, I am afraid that are the first signs of a regression in the field of mental health caused by the lack of economic sources.
However, I would like to conclude my speech with an optimistic note. So instead of a conclusion I will give the stand to a new member of our association who will talk about his own experience providing us with his fresh perspective of things. Thank you all for your attention!!!