IFRC


Belarus Red Cross opens its first centre for people with mental disorders

Published: 22 November 2013 10:08 CET

The first walk-in centre for people living with mental disorders in Belarus has been opened by the Red Cross. There are great expectations that the centre will make a big impact to improve the situation of people with mental disorders as well as increase the understanding of their situation among family members and in society in general.

“This group has not received much attention but is facing serious conditions within our society,”  said Viktor Kolbanov, Secretary General of the Belarus Red Cross at the opening. He said it was vital that the Red Cross works to remove stigma and promote active participation of people living with mental illnesses.

The walk-in centre is also an example of cooperation within the Movement. The planning of the centre and the mental health programme was done in cooperation with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies health coordinator for Europe as well as the Icelandic Red Cross, who has more than 20 years of experience running this kind of centres.

The Icelandic Red Cross and the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs are also supporting the centre and the programme financially for the coming three years.

“We are proud to share our knowledge and experiences,” said Nína Helgadóttir, programme manager at the Icelandic Red Cross, who attended the opening ceremony in Minsk. “Over the past two decades, we have seen a drastic change in social acceptance of people living with mental disorders, as well as significant improvement in the quality of their lives. The centres and our advocacy work have clearly played an important role in this.”

The users of the centres in Iceland play an active part in the programme, and their advice and ideas have been part of shaping the new programme in Belarus, where the first walk-in centre also received a number of presents and good wishes from centre-users in Iceland.

“Listening to the voices of people living with mental disabilities is one of the most important element of the programme and crucial in the battle against stigma,” Helgadottir said.

A delegation from the Belarus Red Cross visited the Icelandic Red Cross, health authorities and self-support groups earlier this year in order to study the services available for the mentally disabled in Iceland. Some 50,000 people are believed to live with mental health problems in Belarus, but only five per cent receive treatment in mental institutions. The majority of people who experience mental disabilities are believed to have been abandoned by their families, and suffer social exclusion. The main purpose of the walk-in-centres is to break the isolation of those with mental disorders.

Kolbanov said the first centre will not be just a craft workshop, although different activities will be offered. These will all be voluntary, the main purpose is for the user to have a place to feel comfortable and to not feel excluded. Another purpose is to change minds, prejudice and stereotypes in the community and society. “The cooperation with the Icelandic Red Cross, which has both the knowledge and experience in working with people with mental disorders, is invaluable for our National Society,” he said.

 




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