The Asia Pacific Community Mental Health Development Project (APCMHDP) continues to go from strength to strength, with participants from 16 countries in the Asia Pacific gathering in Melbourne for a two day conference in August.
Thirty-five participants from the Asia Pacific region representing sixteen countries joined a special two day International Seminar on Community Mental Health Development and began the next stage of the Asia Pacific Community Mental Health Development Project (APCMHDP), which is focussed on partnerships.
The first day of the International Seminar was an open seminar attended by the delegates from the Asia Pacific region and many other interested people, including visitors from Norway and Germany, and Australians who wanted to learn more about mental health services in Asia. We were welcomed by Professor Bruce Singh, A/Prof. Tricia O’Rourke, and Professor John Dewar. Ms Rosemary Huxtable from the Commonwealth Government outlined future directions for Australian mental health, followed by a keynote speech by our international expert, Professor Graham Thornicroft from the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London. This set the scene with an overview of the challenges for global mental health development and an update on the WHO Mental Health Global Action Plan (MHGAP).
Responses to these challenges were presented by Dr Liu Jin from China, Prof. Harvey Whiteford from Australia, and Professor Helen Herrman from the WHO Collaborating Centre for Mental Health. Each participating country gave a short snapshot of mental health development in their country. Despite considerable diversity across countries in delivery of mental health care, speakers demonstrated a common commitment to expanding community mental health services.
The first day set the scene and enabled many participants to renew old friendships and to foster new ones. A key priority of the Asia Pacific Community Mental Health Development Project for advancing the development of community mental health services in our region is to consolidate the network of mental health leaders so we can both offer and receive support from our regional neighbours.
The second day of the international seminar was devoted to consolidating our Asia Pacific network and establishing our common purpose and actions for future expansion of community mental health services. Expert facilitator, Dr. Margaret Byrne led us through a series of steps (as part of the World Cafe process) which encouraged sharing of ideas by all participants. This process facilitated an increase in our understanding of the issues and challenges in the different countries. Considerable energy and excitement was generated through the active involvement of participants who demonstrated a commitment to collaboration and cooperation across countries. One key outcome from the World Cafe workshop, is that the processes and tools can now be used by participants in their own countries and organisations to plan and develop mental health services.
Key messages collaboratively developed from the workshop were:
“Our purpose is to strengthen the partnership between our countries to improve community mental health.”
“We feel very positive about the network and have high hopes for it, but many critical success factors are lacking, so we need to use the network to assist us. Each country has different priorities and conditions”.
“It is encouraging that there are many enabling forces like increased collaboration and better policies”.
As well as the serious work of determining our future activities, there was time for getting to know each other better, and to share some delicious food over the two days.
We are grateful to the Australian Commonwealth Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for supporting the attendance of many of our colleagues at the Seminar. It is important to recognise the challenges in convening a seminar like this; in so many of the participating countries in the Asia Pacific Community Mental Health Development Project, the demands on the few psychiatrists and mental health leaders make it very difficult for them to participate in international conferences. They are needed in their own countries to continue to provide mental health care, and to oversee mental health development. We acknowledge the important support of their governments in enabling them to attend this seminar.