President’s message for the New Year

Dear Members of the WFMH,

I am writing to wish all of you a good festive season and a Happy New Year.

These wishes may sound a bit out of tone in this period of economic recession that has caused a lot of psychological sufferings to the citizens in every corner of our earth. Can we be happy under these circumstances, with depression and suicide increasing, with people living in extreme poverty and with survival having become problematic for the most vulnerable sectors of the population? We are all aware that poverty (and economic inequalities for that matter) is associated with mental suffering and despair driving some to self harm. What can we do under these circumstances?

In all disasters (including the economic ones) the key word is SOLIDARITY. Heartening each other, supporting each other emotionally and advocating for the more vulnerable groups is often helpful. There is strong evidence that prevention and mental health promotion for the vulnerable people in our communities costs less than treating these people after they become ill. This is an argument that people in the governments understand (or at least should understand). Among the roles of our Federation and among the roles of each one of us individually is to highlight these facts and advocate for the rights of the vulnerable people in our communities.

The persons who have already developed psychological illness, the consumers, suffer more than other groups from the consequences of an economic recession. There is strong evidence indicating that in practically every corner of the world it is the services for the persons with psychiatric disorders that are more curtailed during periods of economic crises. It is indeed paradoxical that the persons who need more support during these periods get less attention. The reasons for this phenomenon are obvious. People with psychological problems do not protest, they do not strike, they do not blackmail the authorities and governments and hence they are ignored. It is therefore OUR task, as a global advocacy organization to protect them, defend their rights, become their voice and (more than that) empower them to have a strong voice of their own.

Under the current adverse circumstances, our organization should not only survive but fulfill a broader and more demanding role. I am sure that you will do your best to help our organization fulfill this role. After a period of very weak finances and following severe austerity measures, a very successful World Congress in Buenos Aires heralded the onset of more promising times. Our finances are better but not quite. We must continue our austerity until we repay the debt in full and until we are able to sustain some important activities that inevitably need money. Any support from you would be most welcome. I know of course that we are all volunteers and the time and effort that we are giving is much more worth any contribution in terms of money.

We are trying to organize our Federation better. The Board members have kindly responded to a Questionnaire I addressed to them and have indicated their ideas about the priorities of our Organization and the roles they consider themselves suitable for. Following our Board meeting and the Voting Members Assembly in Buenos Aires I have proposed an Action Plan that has been approved by the Board and on the basis of the Action Plan, various Committees to implement it have been appointed and approved. Four of these Committees are presently vigorously working to satisfy important and urgent needs, the Committee on the Bylaws (jointly headed by Gabriel Ivbijaro and Juan-Enrique Mezzich) the World Mental Health Day Committee (headed by Patt Franciosi) the Committees on Meetings and Constituency Development (headed by Mohammed Abou-Saleh) the Financial Policy and Sustainability Committee (headed by Helen Millar) and also a fraction of our Public Impact Committee that deals with the renewal of our website (with the kind participation of Hugh Schulze). I am participating ex officio in all these Committees and I can assure you they are working very effectively.

Our next World Congress of Mental Health will be held in Cairo, Egypt, on October 16-19, 2015. The Organizing Committee under the joint chairmanship of Nasser Loza and the WFMH President and the Scientific Committee under the chairmanship of Mohammed Abou- Saleh are working vigorously and I hope that we will have a first-class congress there, provided of course that the political situation will keep on improving in Egypt. We will also, hopefully, have a Regional Congress in Singapore in September or November 2015.

Before these events, our Federation, in cooperation with the Hellenic Psychiatric Association will organize an International Congress in Athens, Greece from 9 to 11 October 2014. The theme of this congress will be the same as the theme for the World Mental health Day

(“Living with Schizophrenia”) and during this congress there will be an EC meeting and a full Board Meeting. I hope that the revision of the

Bylaws by our Bylaws committee will be ready by that time to be presented for voting to the Board so that the 2015 elections will be carried out according to the new Bylaws.

Yet another International Congress will be held in Lille, France from 28 to 30 April 2015 on the initiative of Gabriel Ivbijaro and a Regional Congress will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in August 2014, to be organized by Alberto Trimboli who was the organizer of our very successful World Congress of Mental Health in August this year.

As you probably know, the main theme of the World Mental Health Day for 2014 is “Living with Schizophrenia”, a topic of great clinical, advocacy and social interest. Our committee for the WMHDay under the chairmanship of Patt Franciosi is working hard to promote this day internationally. The list of contributors to the material of the WMHDay has been completed and has been approved by the EC, support in financial aid and kind has been provided by Lundbeck and further support from other sources will hopefully follow. The colophon of the relevant celebrations will be a special occasion in Athens to celebrate the WMHDay, probably at the Aula of the University of Athens.

The members of the Board of Directors will actively contribute to our efforts for the progress of our Federation. We are fortunate to have a lot of talented and experienced persons on board and many of them have a record of very distinguished contributions to mental health internationally.

I wish to thank the Executive Committee members, all our Board members, our three advisors, John Bowis, Yoram Cohen and Roger Montenegro, our international representatives Myrna Lachenal and Nancy Wallace and especially our dedicated staff members Elena Berger and Deborah Maguire for their support and encouragement. We have made a good start. Our world congress has been a great success, our finances are improving, we have organized ourselves better with the Action Plan and the committees, we will very soon have a brand new website (owing to the pro bono contribution of Hugh Schulze with the mediation of Larry Cimino) those committees whose work has been identified as urgent are working vigorously, the theme for the WMHDay has been selected on time and the relevant work has started very early, the World Congress committee in Cairo is working hard and so are the committees for the two international congresses (in Athens and Lille) and for the two Regional congresses (in Buenos Aires and Singapore), we have established a good working relationship with the WHO (especially with reference to the implementation of the Mental Health Action Plan) and with practically all advocacy and professional organizations, the Great Push and Charter, owing to the efforts of former President John Copeland, have upgraded our international profile. These developments should make us optimistic about the future of our Federation and about the services it can provide to the suffering people globally.

That is all for now. I will communicate with you again to update you on the most important developments and our future plans.

With warm regards and best wishes on behalf of the Executive Committee and myself personally to you and your families.

Cordially yours

George Christodoulou
WFMH President