Life beyond medicine
EXPERTS TO HOLD A THREE-DAY, SELF-ADVOCACY WORKSHOP FOR USERS OF PSYCHIATRIC SERVICES
Pune: Users of psychiatric services now have the opportunity to learn self-advocacy skills, when city-based Bapu Trust, a centre for advocacy in mental health, holds a three-day workshop in selfadvocacy skills for people with psycho-social disabilities at the YMCA, Quarter Gate, from October 17 to 19.
Internationally acclaimed mental health activist Gabor Gombos of Hungary will be the principal facilitator and will be assisted by Bhargavi Davar, founder-trustee, Bapu Trust. Both Gabor and Bhargavi are user-survivors of psychiatry services and will be the role models for the participants.
Gabor, a former theoretical physicist, has become an advocate for the rights of people with psycho-social disabilities. He was profiled in the project, ‘Speak truth to power’ as one of the 51 leading human rights defenders, along with the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.
Gabor, a user of psychotropic medication for 15 years, experienced a two-month period of heavy depression following the death of his mother, a psychiatric patient, in a suspected case of drug overdose during a clinical drug trial in Budapest. He was nursed back to health by a close friend without any medication. This is when Gabor realised that alternative therapies were possible in mental health treatment.
Gabor, who proceeded to conduct research in the field of clinical drug trials with the help of ‘The Washington Post’ newspaper, says, “We realised that abuse was very frequent and the user’s consent was almost never taken.”
This led Gabor to join a grassroots NGO in Hungary working in the field of human rights and alternatives to conventional bio-medical psychiatry. He even chaired the European network of users and survivors of psychiatry.Today, he works as a senior advocacy officer in the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre in Budapest.
According to Gabor, the stigma of mental illness is so overwhelming and the legal regimes in many countries so disqualifying that unless users become self-advocates and present their case effectively, they end up losing jobs, feel discriminated, etc. Says Gabor, “Therefore the basic objective of this workshop is to teach participants self-advocacy skills through role plays, our own life stories and instances where self-advocacy has succeeded.”
According to him, Hungary and India are among the first countries to ratify the latest UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. “The Indian government will soon have to interact with organisations in this field. Usually, it is the doctors and family members of the users who end up interacting with the government. It is high time the users themselves were empowered to state their own case,” Gabor stresses.
Bhargavi Davar, a user-survivor herself, recounts the severe depression she underwent following the loss of her child. Bhargavi, who has a doctorate in ‘philosophy of the mind’ from the IIT, Mumbai, weathered the storm by exploring alternative therapies like painting, writing, physical workouts and a shift to a high protein diet. “Despite my depression, two of my books on women’s mental health were published internationally and I set up the Bapu Trust 10 years ago,” Bhargavi says. “I am convinced that people suffering from psycho-social disabilities have this great strength and capacity to use their life’s experiences to build new lives.”
Those interested in attending ‘Building leadership among users of psychiatry’ can contact Bapu Trust on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 2683-7644/47.