An international panel of researchers and scientific experts gathered at the World Health Organization’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland last week to share findings from the initial phase of a multi-year program designed to reduce early mortality in people living with serious mental illness. Fountain House President Kenn Dudek, Dr. Ralph Aquila from the Sidney R. Baer, Jr. Center and Karen Pratt represented Fountain House at this significant working session.
Dr. Ralph Aquila and Kenn Dudek
Researchers from many countries, including China, India and Ethiopia, presented data about the prevalence of serious mental illness, along with key risk factors and major causes of death, from health behaviors and social risks to co-occurring medical disease and health system factors. They established that the majority of deaths are due to preventable diseases, such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Suicide is also a frequent cause of death.
At the three day meeting, researchers presented existing programs, interventions and guidelines that address lifestyle behaviors (such as weight management and smoking cessation), as well as policies and interventions that address stigma reduction and support integrated medical and psychiatric care.
Kenn and Dr. Aquila shared the success of Fountain House’s model that involves a stigma-free environment and novel approaches to promote health and lower morbidity. The integrated medical and behavioral practice at the Sidney R. Baer Center coupled with fitness, nutrition and healthy living practices offered by the Lewis Wellness Center have produced compelling positive outcomes that can be examined and replicated globally. Members’ commitment to creating a health-conscious culture has been increasing their longevity and improving their quality of life.
Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Head of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization, asked everyone attending to make a commitment to launch a global advocacy campaign that will educate the media, public, policy makers, and healthcare providers on effective health-based practices and community interventions.
Phase two will catalog best practices that can help low-and middle-income countries improve early mortality rates among people with serious mental illness. Through studies, policy briefs, media education, conference presentations and other venues, the campaign will establish that people with serious mental illness have a right to receive an equal level of medical care as anyone else in society. People affected by mental health conditions and their family groups will play a large role in disseminating relevant information on the problem and potential solutions, and will advocate for changes that will reduce their risk for early mortality and contribute to their leading longer, healthier lives.