Change of Chairmanship
On March 1, 2014, Professor Graham Thornicroft took over from Dr. Benedetto Saraceno as Chairman of Human Rights in Mental Health-FGIP. Dr. Saraceno served FGIP for a period of four complicated years, during which the change of a Hilversum-led organized organization changed into a federation of equal member organizations, but also the period when the economic crisis had a deep impact on our work and our financial basis. We are lucky that Dr. saraceno will continue to serve FGIP for another four years as Past Chairman, in conjunction with our new Chairman.
We present here the statements of the incoming Chairman, as well as of the outgoing one.
Human rights matter. They matter because, in an unequal world, they offer potentially enforceable claims to liberties and opportunities. They rebalance the relationship between individuals and states, and between those with and without resources. To recognise the rights of another person is to grant authority to them. It is to remove the need for goodwill or charity and to put in place a mechanism of accountability for violations in honouring these rights.
In the field of mental health these issues are especially sharp and poignant. It is clear that people with mental health problems, and often their family members, are stigmatised, discriminated against, and social excluded from full citizenship in every country worldwide. For too long the needs and preferences of people with mental health problems have been assigned the lowest level of priority by international organisations, ministries of health, and health care providers. For too long the human rights of people with mental illness have been ignored or violated in countries rich and poor.
In particular the Right to Health, or more specifically the right to health care, is one that now needs to more actively applied in the field of mental health. We have increasingly clear international agreements (specifically in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights -General Comment 14, and in theConvention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). Yet it remains true that conditions within many psychiatric institutions around the word fall far below any reasonable understanding of how the Right to Health should be applied.
But beyond question of poor quality care is the far wider issue that the large majority of people in the world who have mental health problems receive no treatment at all. The WHO have described this as the ‘treatment gap’, and in high income countries only about a quarter of people needing treatment in fact receive such care, whereas in many low income countries fewer than 10% get the help they need.
From a personal point of view, working as a psychiatrist in a community mental health teams in South London over the last 25 years, I see how social exclusion can delay or prevent people from seeking help, and can mean that they receive second rate care for their physical health problems. I also work as a researcher at King’s College London, and I know that there is now growing evidence of how we can, and I believe we should, promote the recovery and social participation of people with mental illness.
For these reasons I am delighted to have been asked to Chair the Board of the Federation-Global Initiative on Psychiatry. This outstanding organisation has been at the forefront of action to recognise and fulfil the human rights of people with mental illness for over thirty years. Originally dedicated to the reform of mental health in former Soviet states, the reach of F-GIP has steadily grown to achieve worldwide prominence.
To reflect this renewed commitment to the central important of human rights, F-GIP is now being renamed as ‘Human Rights in Mental Health’. The organisation will continue its practical projects around the world to improve the scale and quality of mental health care, and will also intensify its programme of activities to address human rights issues directly. I invite you to join us and to work together for a future in which people are treated equally, whether or not they have been affected by mental ill health.
On March 1st 2010 I was elected as the chairman of GIP and on March 1st 2014, after 4 years, I handed over the chairmanship to Professor Graham Thornicroft from the Institute of Psychiatry at the King’s College in London.
I would like to offer some few remarks about these four years of experience as chairman.
1. About the geographical identity of FGIP.
FGIP is a unique organization due to its very special history of advocating and fighting for the human rights of people with mental disabilities in Russia and in Eastern Europe. FGIP has acquired in its long history a lot of credibility, prestige and moral authority also thanks to the quality of its leadership (I think to my predecessors, Jim Birley and Robin Jacoby, to the founder and chief executive Robert Van Voren and to the directors and staff of the offices in Vilnius, Sofia, Tbilisi, Hilversum and London).
I think that during the last four years we altogether have intensively worked towards a broader geographical identity: we have been able to move from Eastern Europe to Africa and Asia and this is well reflected in our programmes and in the presence of new board members coming from those areas of the world.
2. About the institutional nature of FGIP.
GIP started as a Dutch organization able to promote activities and programmes in Eastern Europe and to establish local offices working with local staff. These offices became slowly more independent and therefore, shifting towards a federal structure of GIP became the natural option. During the last four years we altogether have worked to better define and establish a Federation composed by national offices operating on equal rights and responsibilities. This has been and it will be a long process requiring negotiations, adaptations and mutual understanding: it has been not always easy but we have been brave, we never gave up and still we are together. The Federation should continue as the best institutional option.
3. About the technical expertise of FGIP.
The areas of expertise of GIP have increased across time due the expanding of the expertise of our staff and sometimes due to opportunistic choices (funding). However, I am convinced that the two key concepts which mark the history of GIP are: community mental health care and human rights. Indeed, we have worked on a broader spectrum of topics but the fundamental axes along which we have operated remain unchanged, and this is very good. I am deeply convinced that GIP cultural identity is based on a clear public mental health approach driven by human rights concerns. Community mental health care services are seen by us as the key component of a mental health system and even long term severely disabled persons should be part of community oriented programmes of social inclusion and psychosocial rehabilitation. Technical expertise in these areas has been a stable element of GIP cultural identity and I am convinced that this should continue also in the future. Fighting discrimination against people with mental disabilities and promoting human rights in psychiatric systems should be kept as our strong and clear heraldic emblem.
4. The future of FGIP.
A future led by Graham Thornicroft and Robert Van Voren is a wonderful and promising future. We are all aware that once again financial problems and organizational matters will try to block the healthy life of FGIP but once again you all will be able to keep FGIP healthy.
The visionary and contagious optimism and leadership of Robert, the outstanding knowledge, prestige and moral authority of Graham, your long record of professional experience and courage will effectively serve the cause of GIP.
I think that FGIP’s geographical identity should continue expanding in order to make FGIP really a global organization.
I think that FGIP as a Federation should formally become an independent, autonomous and self-sufficient organization.
I think that the general public, the international mental health professional community, the NGOs world and the International Multilateral Agencies should all see FGIP as the human rights mental health organization “par excellence”: human rights should be the key word immediately resonating in all minds when talking about FGIP.
Finally, I think that FGIP board needs a much better gender balance and this not just to be politically correct but because we really need much more the contribution from female professionals and experts.
5. FGIP has enjoyed two outstanding chairpersons (J. Birley and R. Jacoby).
I have been chairman during a difficult time of transition of GIP history and I did my best even if I was not able to offer you the same standards of my predecessors.
I will stay for another period as member of the FGIP Board and I will be always available to the new chairman in case he may require my opinion or support.