Press Releases

International Battlefield Shares Common Ground in D.C.

Global Partnership Initiative offers unique opportunity to dialogue on struggles and achievements for mental health advocates around the world

Oct 02 2003

Arlington, VA - "Access to health and well being is a human right: and no one can deny human rights," stated impassioned Alberto M. Bertoldi, Ph.D., Argentina. "We have to fight for the rights of our loved ones and ourselves."

"Little by little we are making progress in my country by networking with other groups… we’re part of the European Brain Council," said Hilkka Karkainen, Finland. Sitting with mental health advocates from around the world during NAMI’s Global Partnership Initiative this week at NAMI headquarters, Arlington, VA, USA, Nusreen Khan of South Africa may have best captured the experience: "Hearing someone else’s voice say just what you’re experiencing…that’s amazing."

From differing continents, governments, languages and cultures, the same concerns of fighting stigma, finding funding, gaining access for people with mental illnesses to needed services and treatments were the uniting chords in a dialogue designed to strengthen mental health advocates and their organizations worldwide. "This is not about NAMI teaching anyone else," said Darlene Nipper, NAMI chief operations officer and national director of NAMI’s Multicultural/International Outreach Center. "This exchange is for all of us: for the improvement of what we do."

According to Maria Schneider of The Pfizer Foundation, sponsor of the initiative, the Global Partnership is designed to support advocacy communities, nurture innovation and make the patient’s voice more effective. Jaime Grant, Ph.D., facilitator added. "What’s so exciting to me is this chance to dialogue which we would otherwise never be able to have. To share the nuggets of wisdom from the field; share accomplishments and challenges together."

Harsh realities are part of the dialogue. "Even when the World Health Organization does come out with a new report on mental illness, it makes no difference," said Felecitas Kort Rosemberg of Venezuela. "We are all alone. If we had stronger coalitions— that would make a difference."

"In South Africa our lawmakers go ahead and make decisions without any input from consumers. Consumers are sucked into this mindset— no matter what the consequences are," said Kahn

"I see these wonderful people, fighting with no help, no resources; all over the world," said Silvana Prado of Brazil.

The group of 12 visited Washington’s Capitol Hill and talked with U.S. Congress representatives, participated in educational workshops on consumer and family support models and advocacy work and toured Saint Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital as part of their states-side experience.

Budget-driven governmental decisions that deny care for people with serious mental illnesses, system gaps and disconnects, barriers to integrated treatment due to restricted information sharing, discrimination in paying for mental illness services, stigma and more, resonated similarly from continent to continent.

"We have a great struggle in common," said Richard C. Birkel, Ph.D., NAMI executive director, "and we will advance by globalizing our efforts. We represent people who have been disenfranchised and misunderstood in every culture. Our hope is that we as advocates form a network to exchange ideas and successes, and strengthen our political clout. Inevitably, we will form good friendships as well."

For more information about NAMI and the Multicultural/International Outreach Center access

Who Participated?

International participants were: Hilkka Karkainen, GAMIAN-Europe, Finland; Graciella Camara, INGENIUM – Morelos, Mexico; Maragret Springgay, Mental Illness Fellowship of Austrailia, Austrailia; Nusreen Kahn, REACH, South Africa; Silvana Prado, APOIAR, Brazil; Gareth Mitchell, The Depression and Anxiety Support Group, South Africa; Chiaying Wei, The Alliance for the Mentally Ill of R.O.C. , Tiawan, Alberto Bertoldi, Fundacion Contener, Argentina; Felicitas Kort Rosemberg, Venezuelan Assoc. of Behavior Therapy, Venezuela; Rosarina Arena de Vargos, Fundacion Luz y Vida, Paraguay; Mrs. Dagna Calbecka, POL-FAMILIA, Poland and Mr. Andrzej Warot, POL-FAMILIA, Poland.

What is the Global Partnership Initiative?

The Global Partnership Initiative is a targeted international exchange and educational program designed to strengthen the capacity of community-based, grassroots organizations to conduct effective advocacy and education among mental health consumers, families, and local professionals.

To achieve maximum impact, the Global Partnership Initiative focuses on two of the ten strategic recommendations made by the World Health Organization in its 2001 report:

  1. Educate the public. Public education and awareness campaigns on mental health should be launched in all countries to reduce barriers to treatment and care. These campaigns will increase awareness of the frequency of mental disorders, their treatability, the recovery process, and the human rights of people with mental disorders.
  2. Involve Consumers and Family Members. To improve access to care and ensure the highest quality treatment, communities, families and consumers must be central to the development of policies, programs, and services for people with mental illness.