International Conference on Mental Health

«From Crisis Management to Sustainable Reforms»



The two-day International Conference on Mental Health "From Crisis Management to Sustainable Reforms" that took place on the 3rd and 4th of June 2019 at the Alkis Argyriadis Amphitheater of the National Kapodistrian University of Athens and was co-organized by the Attica subgroup for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support and the IASC MHPSS Reference Group, with the support of Doctors of the World Greece, was successfully completed.

A series of topics were raised during the roundtables discussions of the two-day conference, related to humanitarian response in emergencies and sustainable policy reforms in the field of mental health.

Mrs. Chara Tziouvara, the President of the Board of Doctors of the World, in her opening speech, welcomed guests and speakers. Mrs. Tziouvara referred to the experience of Doctors of the World in mental health and psychosocial support activities, but also to the situation in Greece as it is currently being developed for the most vulnerable social groups. "Greece was obliged to handle, during the economic crisis, the huge refugee and migratory flows of desperate people who were violently forced to abandon their homes in order to escape the war and the plague, while seeking protection and support in Europe. The challenges and risks faced by the population and by those who have undertaken the provision of services are imperative until this day, while the welfare system is still very limited,"she stated.



The Alkis Argyriadis Hall was filled since early in the morning, with representatives of the Hellenic Parliament, members of International Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations, healthcare and mental healthcare professionals as well as other structures, Greek and international students and representatives of refugee and migrant communities in Greece.

Ms. Eugenia Thanou, the General Director of Doctors of the World, noted:"We do not have the opportunity often to attend high-level conferences that address a wide range of humanitarian professionals and focus on the issue of crisis management issue."

The conference also welcomed the head of the UN Refugee Agency in Greece, Mr Philip Leclerc, who briefly spoke about the developments considering the refugee/migrant crisis, but also the progress that has been made, despite the challenges and difficulties.



Mr. Ioannis Mikropoulos, on behalf of the World Health Organization, referred to the collaboration of the International Organization with the Greek Ministry of Health and the recent report published by the World Health Organization on the health of refugees and migrants in Europe. Mr. Mikropoulos also mentioned the organization's intention to issue a similar report on thesituation in Greece, while emphasized the fact that migrant populations - refugees and migrants - are not carriers of microbes and diseases, but rather the poor conditions during the travel and the living conditions in refugee/migrant camps, the deprivation of basic rights and the limited access to services in host countries are the factors that ultimately causethese people physical and mental health problems.

The inaugural session of the Congress began with the presentation of the IASC guidelines issued in 2007 and translated this year in Greek by the Babel Day Center. The presentation of the guidelines was made by Dr. Fahmy Hanna, representative of the World Health Organization's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse and co-chair of the IASC MHPSS Reference Group.





Within this module, issues of intercultural approach, cultural specificity and adaptation to new facts were emerged. The IASC guidelines on mental health and psychological support cover a wide range of different reference areas, demystifying stereotypes about what is considered prosperity, “de-medicating” the issue of mental health and illness and defining the minimum quality standards - standards that a holistic and effective psychosocial intervention must followin order to protect the beneficiaries of humanitarian aid. The IASC guidelines are a legally binding text which is endorsed by various governments among which the Greek government.

Ms. Paraskevi Theofilou, General Manager of Health Services of the Ministry of Health, and Ms. Andria Spyridou, coordinator of the MHPSS Working Group in Syria, also participated in the meeting. The first thematic section was co-ordinated by Mr. Gionakis, a psychologist and Scientific Leader of Babel Day Center.

The Conference continued with a section devoted to the subject of intercultural approaches in the field of mental health. Mr. Joop De Jong, Professor of Intercultural and International Psychiatry at UMC University in Amsterdam, Ms. Dora Tsovili, UNHCR Representative, and Ms. Christine Ogaranko, Mental Health Program Manager of the Open Society Foundation presented their experience from different countries, crises and cultures in a discussion that lasted about two hours and discussed with the audience of the conference about different concepts and practices regarding mental health and health in general. The conclusions of the module focused on the social dimension and social determinants of health for populations living in crisis situations and exposed to multiple risks, like minors. This module was co-ordinate by the rights advocate of Doctors of the World, Ms Elli Xenou. The importance of the participation of the beneficiaries, such as refugees and migrants, in the design of interventions that concern them, as well as the protection of their rights, was the main topics that gained audience’s interest.





The first day of the Congress was completed with presentations by the civil society that presented good practices and useful conclusions. This module was co-ordinated by the Program Coordinator of Harm Reduction activities of Doctors of the World, Mr. Alexandros Anastasiou.

The second and last day of the Conference was opened with a discussion co-ordinated by the Operations Director of Doctors of the World, Mr. Anastasios Yfantis, addressing the issue of mental health policies and the necessary reforms that are needed in Greece.

Ms. Lena Verdeli, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Mr. Heinz-Zenker, Professor of Public Health and Social Medicine and President of the Board of Doctors of the World of Germany, Mr. Stelios Stylianidis, Professor of Social Psychiatry at the Department of Psychology at Panteion University and Mr. Konstantinos Moschovakis, Head of the Mental Health Department of the Ministry of Health, cited examples of other countries and the care that Europe has given to the refugee-migration issue. At the same time, emphasis was given on the way in which Greece deals with the mental health issue of third-country nationals, but also on the challenges, shortcomings, constraints and distortions of the Greek mental health system.



Finally, with regard to the national dimension of the crisis management, the example of the catastrophic fires last July ineast Attica was used as a basis in the last session of the Conference to highlight issues of effective crisis management and early preparation of local communities. Mr. Nikos Papaefstathiou, President of EKEPY, introduced this module, by presenting the action and the measures adopted by the Ministry of Health, as well as the shortcomings, mistakes and difficulties in the coordination. The innovative concept of a resilient city was proposed by the Coordinator of the table, Mr. Nikitas Kanakis as a new perspective towards which we should be heading, regarding the urban landscape of modern Western societies.



All the pillars of the conference, the data presented as well as the conclusions drawn are a very important resource for the future. All speakers agreed to continue the constructive dialogue and the exchange of ideas, experiences and knowledge to improve mental health and psychosocial support for vulnerable populations and people who suffer.

Doctors of the World would like to warmly thank all the operators’ stakeholders, organizations, participants, speakers as well as the volunteers who worked for the smooth conduct of the Conference.






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