The Observatory for Rights in the Field of Mental Health was founded in 2006 with the purpose of defending the rights of persons implicated in the mental health service system and promoting alternative, non-psychiatric ways of managing distress. It is a network of persons involved in the mental health system, that is to say users of psychosocial services, relatives, mental health professionals and employees, and is open to anyone who shares its philosophy and aims. The Observatory is based in Thessaloniki, Greece, but it accepts demands and complaints at a national level, and organises relevant actions, usually in collaboration with other organisations.
While in the last few years legislation has been introduced in Greece with the declared intention of protecting persons with mental health problems from acts of violence and abuse, this has not been achieved in practice. Mental distress and experiences which deviate from the “norm” are attributed to a specific form of illness which, unlike other illnesses, is considered beyond the mental control of its bearer. Consequently, the management of this illness is assigned by the state to systems of social control and suppression, which are incompatible with notions of illness and treatment. This practice, based on the reproduction of the relevant mentality by mental health professionals and the ignorance and fear of the public, leads to mental distress being treated as something akin to an offense, for which the sufferer is punished through discrediting their speech, personality, capacities, wishes, dreams, personal and social rights and control over their own life.
The main principles underscoring our initiatives are:
- the concept of personal and social rights of citizens, whether they become at some point of their lives users of psychosocial services or not, is valid over and above scientific or other interpretative theories, and this cannot be subject to negotiation
- the violation of these rights constitutes violence, personal and social, against the persons whose rights are violated
- the existing mental health system is largely structured in a way that produces and reproduces such forms of violence, primarily through the political and existential discrediting of its users, but also through specific daily practices, both in closed institutions and in the community
- this context of supporting violence affects inevitably, albeit in different ways, not only the users of services, but also their families as well as the employees in the respective institutions, when they are forced by their work context to violate the rights of other persons who find themselves in life crises. In this sense, society as a whole is also affected, since it maintains institutionalised practices of violence, ignorance and exclusion of its weakest members. We contend that this directly offends the ethics and culture of society as a whole
- as informed and concerned citizens, who do not wish to remain observers of this situation, exorcizing the evil and hoping that this will “always concern someone else”.
- To begin a public discussion concerning the social management of mental distress, aiming to change the prevalent view regarding mental health and the so-called mental disorders
- To inform the public on matters of the rights of users of mental health services and of workers within them
- To resist the logic of institutionalization, social exclusion, exercise of any form of violence and violation of human rights in the field of mental health
- To contribute to the development of alternative forms of the social management of mental distress
- To defend and expand the rights of persons in distress both in and out of the mental health service system
- To promote the view that the family members of persons in distress are individuals directly concerned with matters of mental distress, deserving equal attention, support and inclusion of their views along with the rest of parties involved.
- To promote the participation of users of psychosocial services in all levels of decision making that concern their lives
Information gathering regarding violations of rights: Information is gathered concerning (a) incidences of abuse of inpatients in public and private mental health facilities, (b) cases of violation of rights of users or ex-users of mental health services, of their relatives, as well as of workers in this field (c) incidents and concerns regarding ethical issues, and (d) gaps in the mental health service system. On the basis of the demands or complaints it receives, the Observatory acts either collectively, through initiating formal complaint procedures, or individually, through supporting the persons concerned in defending their rights. The prerequisite for undertaking action of any kind is the concerned individual’s consent, active participation and joint shaping of decisions at every stage of the management of information.
Complaint regarding violations of rights in private psychiatric facilities: In April 2008, on the basis of complaints by interested persons, the Observatory sent a written complaint concerning the “Violation of human rights in private psychiatric facilities” to the Committee for the Protection of Rights of Persons with Mental Disorders of the Greek Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity, demanding the investigation and restitution of the incidences and conditions reported therein. The Committee conducted an investigation and made recommendations to the facilities concerned, which were not implemented.
Supporting individual persons in defending their rights: In cases of persons contacting the Observatory with complaints regarding violations of their rights during their involvement with mental health services or expressing intention to exercise their rights, the Observatory supports the persons concerned through (a) informing them on their rights and on legal ways of defending them (b) referring them to law or other professionals who can initiate legal actions on their behalf (c) members of the Observatory directly contacting mental health professionals in charge of their care.
Operating a Public Information Office in the Psychiatric Hospital of Thessaloniki: From 2005 until 2013 volunteer members of the Observatory worked in the Public Information Office for patients and their relatives in the grounds of the Psychiatric Hospital of Thessaloniki, informing them of their rights and supporting them in any relevant action they wish to undertake.
Promoting the psychiatric will: The psychiatric will is a document, signed in the presence of a notary or lawyer, which contains the person’s decisions regarding what they allow and what they forbid to be exercised on their body and mind in the course of a prospective compulsory or voluntary psychiatric hospitalisation, according to their constitutional rights to individual freedom and self-determination. The person concerned can also name specific persons as legal representatives, who take on the responsibility to ensure, using all legal means, that the person’s expressed will is respected in case of compulsory or voluntary hospitalisation in a psychiatric unit. The Observatory supports anyone who wishes to compose a psychiatric will through (a) providing relevant information, (b) providing a template of a psychiatric will in its website, and (c) referral to law professionals.
Support network for persons wishing to stop psychotropic medication: Members of the Network can be mental health professionals and persons with psychiatric experience wishing to support other persons in gradually reducing psychotropic drugs and the restitution or maintenance of their mental health without chemical means. The Network does not encourage anyone to discontinue psychotropic medication, but aims to support those who have already made the decision to do so, so that they achieve this through minimising, to the extent possible, the possible dangers to their health from a sudden and uninformed discontinuation.
Hellenic Hearing Voices Network: The Observatory represents the Hellenic Hearing Voices Network in Thessaloniki and is a member of the international network of hearing voices, Intervoice. There is a self-help/support group of persons who hear voices in Thessaloniki. We also organise events and collect and translate materials regarding the specific approach to voices and unusual beliefs. Finally, people who hear voices can receive individual support in understanding and managing their voices by members of the Observatory.
Promoting alternative ways of managing mental distress: With an aim to promote freedom of choice, which is fundamental to the exercise of rights of users of psychiatric services, the Observatory seeks and promotes alternative modes of managing distress through (a) producing and translating relevant information, which is made available via the Observatory website, (b) organising lectures, seminars and other public events (c) seeking, promoting and publicising existing alternative practices in Greece.
Providing support for setting up and running self help groups: Two self-help groups operate with the support of the Observatory: (a) a self-help group for persons who hear voices and/or have unusual beliefs, which operates as part of the Hearing Voices Network (b) the self-help group “Free Fall” for people with diagnosis of bipolar disorder and/or extreme experiences of grief. The Observatory supports the setting up and running of self-help groups in other parts of Greece, upon request by interested persons, through (a) providing information regarding self help (b) providing guidance and supervision by group coordinators (c) personal visits by members of the Observatory for events and discussions.
“Seminars on Psychosis”: These are mixed groups, meeting weekly, where experiences regarding extreme mental phenomena are experientially presented and discussed, aiming to produce new knowledge on Madness. Two Seminars on Psychosis operate in Thessaloniki and one in Patras.
Citizens’ Mental Health Zones: This is a service of counselling and socio-political networking of people with psychosocial demands, run in collaboration with local and neighbourhood citizens’ initiatives. At present, three such Zones operate in the Thessaloniki area.
ALL THE INITIATIVES OF THE OBSERVATORY ARE OFFERED FREE OF CHARGE AND ARE BASED EXCLUSIVELY ON THE SOCIAL SOLIDARITY OF ITS MEMBERS WITH THE REST OF SOCIETY
FOUNDING TEXT OF THE OBSERVATORY’ S PRINCIPLES FOR THE RIGHTS IN MENTAL HEALTH
The managing forms of the mental, social or other deviation consist one of the most important indicators of a society’s culture. In the modern west cultural model, in which we think Greek society is part of, mental and social deviation is faced with fear, suspicion and responses of violence and exclusion of the people who deviate, from the social goods, in which the remaining citizens have access. The mental pain and the mental experiences which deviate from the average are socially reduced to a specific form of illness, which unlike all of the others is considered not to be subjected to the mental control of the person who has it, and its management is assigned to systems of social control and suppression, which are incompatible both with the concepts of illness and therapy. So, in practice, it is often converted to an offense , for which the suffering subject “is punished” from the society and the respectively organized mental health system, with an almost obvious invalidation of his/her speech, personality, capacities, wishes, dreams, personal and social rights and control over his/her own life. Although in the last years legislation has been introduced, which appears to attempt a protection of these persons from extreme forms of social violence, in practice this is not achieved.
We, who are co-signing the following text, state our opposition to the above rationale, which based in the ignorance and fear of the citizens, cultivates an atmosphere of social racism against so-called mentally suffering people, which is instituted through the mental health system. We consider that:
• The concept of personal and social rights of the citizens, whether they become at some point of their lives users of the psychosocial services, or not, has some validity over and above the scientific or other interpretative theories, and this can’t become an object for negotiation.
• The violation of these rights consists violence, personal and social, against the people, whose rights are violated.
• The existing mental health system is largely structured in a way that produces and reproduces such forms of violence through the main policy and existential invalidation of its users, but also through specific daily practices, inside and outside the hospitalizing institutions.
• This frame of supporting violence affects inevitably, although with different masks, not only the users of the services, but their families too, as well as the workers in the respective institutions, when they are forced by their working frame to violate their fellowmen’s rights who find themselves in life crises. In this sense, the whole society is also affected, covering in her arms legislated samples of violence, ignorance and exclusion of her weakest members. This is directly considered to offend the morals and the culture of the whole society.
• As sensitized and conscientious citizens we don’t want to remain outlookers of this situation, exorcizing the evil and hoping that this will “always concern someone else”. The violation of human rights concerns all of us.
According to the above and the belief that the modification of the social awareness results only from an attitude of collective realization and social solidarity towards people, who decide to claim their personal and social rights – whether they are users of psychosocial services, whether they work in them, whether they are interested citizens or group initiatives, today, Tuesday 6 June 2006, in Thessaloniki we proceed in the founding of the “Observatory for the Rights in Mental Health”
The Observatory works in the form of a people’ s network, who are in any way interested or involved in the mental health system. It is a network of users of psychosocial services, of users’ relatives, of mental health professionals and workers in this area, of sensitive citizens etc. Anyone who shares its philosophy and aims is welcomed in the bosom of the network.
The central action keystone of the Observatory lies in the general meetings of its members, in which after any member’ s suggestions, themes are put into discussion, actions are organized and evaluated and organizing issues, which concern the function of the Observatory itself, are settled.
The Observatory rejects any form of financial support through the psychopharmacological industry.
OBSERVATORY’ S AIMS
• The beginning of a public conversation in relation to the social management of mental pain.
• The modification of the prevalent social opinion about mental health and the so-called mental disorder.
• The formalization of the public on matters of user’s and worker’s rights in the mental health system.
• The resistance to the rationale of institutionalization, of social exclusion, of the exercise of every form of violence and of the violation of human rights in mental health.
• The contribution to the development of alternative forms of the social management of the mental pain.
• The defense and expansion of the mental sufferer’s rights in and out of the mental health system’s structures.
• The promotion of the participation of the users of psychosocial services in all the decision making levels, that concern their lives.
• The promotion of the belief that the family members of the reported as “mentally sufferers” are individuals directly concerned, and deserve equal attention, support and inclusion of their opinion along with the rest involved individuals.
In the Observatory information-observations will be gathered concerning:
• incidences of abuse towards the hospitalized individuals in public and private mental health structures,
• cases of violation of the rights of the users or ex users of mental health services, of their relatives, as well as the rights of the workers in this area
• incidents and speculations/thoughts about ethical issues and also
• deficits of the mental health system.
This information, whether it concerns complaints, or simple reports or observations, can be derived either by the directly interested individual, or by someone who was informed about the irregularity, or by any other person.
This information can :
• just be collected systematized, for future use
• be used in the sense of statistics to support interventions in mental health, when and if this will be considered useful from the General Meeting
• have more specialized use, in the sense of support for example of one request of the interested people
• or whatever the General Meeting of that time decides, after any member’s suggestion.
In case of any information’s further use, a consent is initially necessary to be ensured, of both the one who has made the observation and of the one whom this observation personally concerns. Prerequisite for the undertaking of action of any kind is these individuals to consent, to actively participate, to jointly shape and decide in every stage of the information’s management.
The special management of the information-observation and the specific action undertaken will be regulated by procedures, which the general meeting will have determined and which will potentially be subjected constantly in revision according to the following decision of the general meeting, after any Observatory’s member’s suggestion.
The actions that are undertaken in the context of the Observatory according to the principles of the founding text and the decisions of the general meetings, can be
b) team actions, by a number of members, who are interested in the specific issue or
c) collective, in the sense of a plenary session.
Every action should be announced and discussed in the general meeting. In special occasions, wherever it is considered that this would excessively slow down the procedures, in an initial phase a unanimous consent of all the co-ordinating committee’s members (see the next paragraph), which will be confirmed or not by the next general meeting.
The organizational details concerning the action will be decided by the general meeting of that time, after any member’s suggestion.
Members of the Observatory can become individuals, that agree with the Observatory’s principles and philosophy, that participate in the collectiveness as such, regardless of their accession in other collective schemas.
The typical accession of a new member in the Observatory is accomplished by the co-signing of the Principles’ Text.
As fundamental obligations are defined a) their regular presence in the general meetings, b) their active participation in the Observatory’s actions c) the categorical information of the general meeting for their potential withdrawal from the Observatory, in case the first basic prerequisite can not be kept (regular presence in the general meetings).
The Observatory functions based on the principle of the direct democracy and the unconditional parity among its members.
Any decision making, both on the level of organization and the philosophy of the Observatory, will be taken by the General Meeting after any interested person’s suggestion, based on the principle of Unanimity-Consent.
A Coordinating Committee of 3 members will be elected by the General Meeting for a duration of one year, which 1) will be informed of all the actions and will coordinate them organizationally 2) will gather, factionalize and notify the incoming information to all the Observatory’s member and will keep a full record 3) will organize and call the general meetings
The Committee’s members will be obliged to account for their action in every general meeting and in any given time, provided that such thing will be requested by a certain member of the Observatory, and have to present an account of the action in the end of their term. They are also in any given time revocable with a decision of the general meeting, whether after their own request, or after another member’s request.
All the above points, concerning the Observatory’s organizational issues are potentially constantly subjected to a review with a following decision of the general meeting, after a suggestion of any Observatory’s member.
Thessaloniki, 6 June 2006