The theme of this congress is identical with the theme we have selected for this year’s World Mental Health Day.
“Living with Schizophrenia” is both important and timely. It is important because of the great burden imposed by schizophrenia on the family and on society as a whole but essentially on the patient him (her) self. The degree of suffering of the persons with this illness can be understood only if one considers the very strong self-destructive potential of people with this condition, a fact often ignored. It is timely because we are now in the middle of a transition from institutional care to community care in many parts of the world. The world economic crisis has had a serious negative effect on this process and psychiatric reform in many countries has been arrested or is at risk. The impact of these developments on “living with schizophrenia” has to be evaluated and brought to the attention of decision-makers. It would be catastrophic if “living with schizophrenia” would continue or (even worse) return behind the doors of mental asylums.
“Living with Schizophrenia” can be approached from many perspectives. Who are those who live with schizophrenia? It is basically the patients themselves. The experience is an intense, long-lasting and often unbearable pain coupled with a perception of social isolation produced by prejudice and discrimination.
Yet, the relatives (the carers) also live with schizophrenia and such is also the case with the professionals, the advocates and society as a whole. All these groups share the experience of the sufferers and , depending on their degree of empathy and solidarity, they can be of great help.
Fortunately, since the 1950s, considerable progress in biological psychiatry coupled with a novel psychosocial vista centered on community care increased the therapeutic potential of mental health professionals and also empowered the consumers to achieve greater autonomy.
Acceptance and implementation of concepts like positive mental health, person-centered medicine, resilience and recovery have had a decisive influence on the mentality of professionals and the public and the consumers have been empowered to develop a voice of their own and the capacity to decide about their future in an autonomous way. Autonomy is now a very strong constituent in the ethics codes of most professional organizations.
In addition to the experience of “Living with Schizophrenia” this congress will deal with scientific facts about this illness. We have to know what we are talking about. Solidarity and empowerment are not enough. There should also be management of the patients who suffer from it and this management should be evidence-based and person-centered. We should always remember the Hippocratic dictum that we should treat patients and not illnesses.
I wish to thank the Hellenic Psychiatric Association for having accepted our invitation to co-organize this International congress with us and especially Helen Gretsa, Administrative Director and Androniki Gazelaki, Secretary, for their invaluable assistance, the organizing office ERA Ltd (especially Rena Toli and Dimitra Marandou) for their expert work, the members of the EC and the Board of the WFMH for their productive collaboration, Lundbeck pharmaceutical company and especially Sofie Ustrup, for their support with an unrestricted grant and, lastly, our dedicated WFMH staff members Elena Berger and Deborah Maguire for their support and assistance.
I hope that this congress will contribute to a better understanding of the experience of schizophrenia, to greater empathy with the persons who experience it and to a consequent improvement in our attitude and practice towards the persons who suffer from it.
Professor George N. Christodoulou
President of the World Federation for Mental Health