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World Mental Health Day 2017: The Bulletin's guide to mental health support in Belgium
With mental illnesses the primary cause of invalidity in Belgium and 27% of long-term absenteeism related to mental health issues, mental healthcare should be a priority. One in three Belgians will be confronted with a mental health problem during their lifetime, according to independent Brussels think-tank Itinera Institute. Its latest report pointed out that while this figure was within international norms, services were still lacking and Belgium was failing to allocate sufficient resources to mental health.
Without adequate treatment, the consequences of mental illness for society are staggering. The main problems are depression, social isolation, alcoholism, anxiety and psychosis, and Belgium has a higher than average rate of suicide. The problem starts with diagnosis, with one in five people who seek help not receiving treatment, according to the Itinera report.
In the Mental Health Integration Index, Belgium was placed 10th out of 30 European countries for its efforts and results in integrating people suffering from mental illness into society. The study was conducted in 2014 by The Economist Intelligence Unit on behalf of pharmaceutical company Janssen Pharmaceutica, and Belgium received a high score for its work in reducing stigma about and increasing awareness of mental illness. Nevertheless, negative attitudes persist and family of the mentally ill bear an unnecessarily high burden. The above-average international rankings are largely due to intention rather than actual results, although psycho-social programmes now exist in many companies to combat burn-out among employees. Belgium’s multi-layered government structure makes change more difficult.
Following the World Health Organization’s Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020 calling for a shift from institutional care to community services, Belgium has relocated finances from hospital beds to multidisciplinary community mental health teams. The reform of mental health services includes crisis units and new outreach services across the regions, which work within multidisciplinary networks. Their focus is on providing individual care within a home environment and social context. Overall, the nationwide reform is contributing to improving the long-term health of patients and reducing hospital stays. More information for adults and young people at psy107.be, children and adolescents at psy0-18.be.
Where to get help
You don’t need a referral from your GP before you approach a psychiatrist, psychotherapist or counsellor in Belgium, but the waiting lists for specialist appointments is long, so you’re advised to seek advice from your GP first. Seeking out local support groups and outreach organisations is also recommended.
At the start of 2014, Belgium officially recognised clinical psychologists and orthopedagogists, making sure they are bound by confidentiality rules and can organise standby duties. The legislation also brings to an end the possibility for anyone to call themselves a psychotherapist. These professionals now have to meet certain requirements, such as following at least four years of education after their bachelor degree.
Specialists in these fields can be found via Geomed.be, where you can find someone who speaks your own language. You can also consult the website of the Belgian federation of psychologists (www.bfp-fbp.be) to find a recognised psychologist and check the membership list of the Belgian Association for Psychotherapists (www.abp-bvp.be) to find a reliable psychotherapist. There are psychiatric hospitals all over the country and you can find those in your region via www.hospitals.be.
Many health insurance funds partially repay the costs of psychological or psychotherapeutic help but the conditions and amounts differ. Reimbursement of psychotherapy is frequently excluded from complementary cover, but financial help for this kind of assistance is to be expanded, thanks to this new legislation.
The Flemish has set up the FitinjeHoofd.be portal and app. The initiative – only available in Dutch – offers 10 steps to better mental health, a coaching platform and information on how to increase resilience and better cope with stress and adversity.
People who have migrated to Belgium, whether for work or family, have their own set of stress factors: language difficulties, needing to adapt to a new environment, not understanding how society and services work, loneliness or homesickness.
Community Help Service
The non-profit Community Help Service (CHS) provides emotional and practical support to the many different expatriate communities in Belgium who find it easier to use English. CHS operates a confidential 24/7 information and crisis telephone service called the Helpline. For over 45 years this service has welcomed calls from children, adolescents and adults experiencing an immediate crisis or in need of a listening ear when dealing with loneliness, depression, culture shock or other stress. The CHS Helpline is staffed by a team of trained volunteers under the supervision of professional therapists who are available for consultation by appointment via the CHS Mental Health Centre. Therapy and counselling are also available in other languages including French, Dutch, Hebrew, Spanish, Catalan, German and Romanian. Expertise is available for personal and family issues such as drug and alcohol addiction, stress, depression, anxiety, bereavement, sexual problems, marital and family difficulties and parenting. A children’s team, comprised of a child psychiatrist, child psychologists and educational psychologists, specifically addresses youth learning, emotional and behavioural issues, including educational testing for children with learning difficulties. The cost of seeing a therapist depends on a person’s health insurance plan. Nobody is ever turned away for lack of funds, and fees can be discussed with each therapist on a case by case basis.
24/7 Helpline 02.648.40.14
ADHD – ASC – Dyslexia Family Resources Belgium
Multidisciplinary network of specialists in Belgium providing support to English-speaking families.
Online and phone advice from Leuven centre on eating disorders. Walk-in house, Wednesday afternoon and each third Saturday of the month. 016.89.89.89
Flemish project that providing suffers of psychosis with a link to the outside world via ‘buddies’.
Multilingual and multidisciplinary therapy centre in Brussels (Schuman) and Louvain-la-Neuve. The two centres group together doctors, psychologists, psychotherapists, life coaches and other professionals.
Mental health reference centre in Wallonia, supporting professional mental health services.
La Ligue Bruxelloise Francophone pour la Santé Mentale
Alliance of mental professionals that also defends the rights of mental health sufferers.
Le Chien Vert
Support for children and adults suffering from mental or psychological disorders. 28 Rue Eggerickx, 1150 Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, 02.762.58.15
Online site providing information on mental illnesses in Belgium (French).
Mental Health Europe
Brussels-based umbrella organisation representing mental health associations in Europe. MHE acts as a bridge between these organisations and the European institutions, advocating its cause and informing the media and general public about the plight of people with mental health problems.
PFCSM (Plateforme de Concertation pour la Santé Mentale en Région de Bruxelles-Capitale)
The mental health association serves French- and Dutch-speaking people in the capital. It groups various associations and its main activities are divided into working groups and projects. These include housing, artistic projects, mobile units, research, and care for children, adolescents and young adults.
Multilingual centre in Etterbeek run by association of independent psychologists. Offers therapy and coaching
Volunteer organisation supporting families and friends of people suffering from psychotic problems, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Associations in Brussels, Wallonia and Flanders. 39 Rue Malibran, 1050 Bruxelles, 02.644.44.04
Suicide Prevention (CGG-SP) 1813 Helpline
Children and youngsters can call 102 (daily 16.00-22.00 except Sunday and public holidays). Chat line, Monday and Wednesday, 18.00-22.00 (free).
The Brussels Mindfulness Institute
Courses in English.
Ups & Downs
Self-help organisation for people suffering from bipolar disorder and chronic depression.