The 22nd World Congress of the World Association of Social Psychiatry was held in New Delhi, India from November 30th through December 4th, 2016 with the theme of “Social Psychiatry in a Rapidly Changing World”. With the encouragement and support of the outgoing President of the World Association of Social Psychiatry (WASP), Prof. Thomas K.J. Craig, as well as Alan Doyle, Jeff Aron, and Kenn Dudek, I was able to attend the Congress along with Lucy Roth, the Fountain House Culinary Unit Leader.
The 2016 conference was co-sponsored by the Indian Association for Social Psychiatry (IASP). This meant that out of 1,075 delegates in attendance, two-thirds were from India. This made for a fascinating, in-depth look at how the world’s second most populous nation deals with mental health issues, including having the highest number of suicides globally. Lucy and I learned that quite a bit of work was taking place in India that focused on community mental health, integrated & comprehensive healthcare, the role of family, caregivers, and peers, as well as how spirituality played a key role in the psycho-rehabilitation of people living with severe mental illness.
My first presentation with Ms. Kimiko Tanaka, a researcher who works with Fountain House, and Ms. Outi Hietala, another researcher from Finland who I had met at the 2014 Conference in London, was entitled, “Recovery through Community, Opportunity & Empowerment: The Impact of the Fountain House Model on Members Lives through Inclusion & Achievement”. There were two parts to the presentation, the first focused on Fountain House and its history, and the second focused on member’s stories of recovery and achievement. I was able to use five different member stories, along with my “Man in the Mirror” speech, which is how I always tell my personal story of recovery, empowerment, and achievement. I always start off saying that when I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, I don‘t see a man with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, but a man who is defined by his relationships and the work that he does. It has proven to be a highly effective way to combat the stigma and discrimination that always seems to attach itself to a mental illness diagnosis by turning people’s perceptions about it upside-down and inside-out.
My second presentation was on the last day of the Conference, entitled “Communitas: Local Solutions to Global Challenges – The Potential Impact of the Fountain House Model on Members Lives throughout the U.S. and the World". I focused more specifically on several key points that included definitions and differences between the Latin word, communitas, and the English word, community. In addition, I spoke about the core principles of a working community that included the need-to-be-needed, choice and the voluntary nature of Fountain House, members as social beings, place, and intentionality.
In closing, I spoke of how Fountain House has partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) to document the prevalence of early mortality rates in low-to-middle income nations (LMIC), such as India, in order to identify guidelines and best practices to be implemented by healthcare professionals and policymakers. This is to address the devastating impact that people living with serious mental illness generally dying 15-25 years younger than the rest of the population, with the hope of reversing that trend.
As we wrapped things up that final day, Lucy and I were only beginning to understand the importance of attending this conference, and how our presence there was helping to educate professionals (mainly psychiatrists) about the best practices for addressing the needs and wants of their patients and clients. Community-based programs, evidence-based practices, basic human rights, and the inherent dignity of all men, women, and children, is the way forward, we believe, and Fountain House is just one way to do this.