Thursday, 15 January 2015

World Association of Social Psychiatry Jubilee Congress

WASP 50th Jubilee Congress
On November 13th-15th 2014, the World Association of Social Psychiatry held its 50th Jubilee Congress. The event was a joint conference with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, organised in Park Plaza Hotel in Central London.

The Congress assembled a programme of wide scientific interest, marking the achievements of social psychiatry as a keystone to excellence in mental health care. It welcomed participants from 50 different countries and consisted of 60 lectures, seminars, workshops and talks as well as nearly 200 poster presentations. This report presents only a small selection of what was an enormously rich and interesting programme.

In his opening speech, the WASP President Dinesh Bhugra addressed current challenges to psychiatric practices in the 21st century. Bhugra put a particular emphasis on mental health issues arising as a result of globalization and use of modern technology, including cyber-bullying, internet-based religious radical movements and online advice forums for teenagers.

Stefan Priebe in his plenary talk argued that the future of psychiatry is social. He explicated term ‘social’ as ‘everything that happens between people’. According to Priebe all the most important phenomena and issues related to psychiatry are of a social character, including the pathogenesis of mental disorders, stigmatization, prevention and issues related to pharmaceutical industry. The main social factors associated with mental health problems are, Priebe argued, adverse childhood conditions, poverty, poor education, war experience and torture as well as social isolation. The scale of challenges for social psychiatry in the 21st century is especially wide and their significance is impossible to overestimate.

Shanaya Rathod presented a seminar on possibilities and challenges of delivering culturally adapted cognitive behavioural therapy for acute mental disorders. Rathod argued that although the expressions of mental health problems may vary across the cultures, the underlying problems and experiences are similar among all people. For example, the experience of delusions is widespread among people, although the content of delusions vary upon the cultures. In India, the delusional content seems to have prominence of religious and supernatural. South Asian Muslims experience predominantly religious and conspiracy delusions. The delusional content of people in West Africa relates to the ancestors and witchcraft, whilst in China delusions relate mainly to possession by spirits and to political conspiracy. Rathod presented and explained the necessity of cultural adaptation of CBT in order to meet the needs of culturally diverse societies.

A series of oral presentations dealt with the world-wide problem of stigmatization in mental health. Ai Aoki presented the results of an empirical study designed to verify whether changing the name of diagnosis might contribute to reducing the attached stigma. Following the request by the National Federation of Families with Mentally Ill in Japan, the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology had renamed the Japanese name of schizophrenia from “mind-split-disease” to “integration disorder” in 2002. It was the first attempt in the world aiming to reduce stigma attached to schizophrenia by changing its name. However, after a thorough analysis of 3043 articles in major national newspapers, Aoki and colleagues found out that no significant difference in common attitude towards people with schizophrenia has been present. Aoki concluded that renaming the mental health diagnosis is not enough to reduce the related stigma.

I, Magdalena Antrobus, represented Project PERFECT with a poster presentation on the psychological benefits of bipolar disorder. I argued that alongside its harmful outcomes, the manic-depressive spectrum might be associated with at least four traits of beneficial character, such as realism, creativity, empathy and resilience. A thorough understanding of the complexity of the bipolar experience and related phenomena, may contribute to the shifted perception of people with this diagnosis and, as the result, may help to reduce the associated stigma.

Magdalena Antrobus

The Congress was an excellent platform of encounters for a variety of professionals working in social psychiatry and social care as well as for academics researching the issues of mental health. Its most important value relates to shifting our attention towards social, thus people-related, factors associated with the genesis and development of mental disorders as well as with their prevention and treatment.

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