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World Mental Health Day 2017: We meet the director of Mental Health Europe
I’ve been interested in disability rights since I was a child, due to personal experiences within my family. With my background in law, including EU law and human rights, it felt natural to start working for a European disability NGO, which I did for some years. There I discovered more about a group that’s particularly invisible and discriminated against: people with psychosocial disabilities. It prompted me to work in the field of mental health.
I now head up Mental Health Europe, which aims to bridge the gap between our 73 member organisations and the European institutions. We keep our members informed of and involved in any developments at EU level.
We have an amazing, multicultural membership, and I really enjoy working with so many experienced people who believe in a shift towards a model of mental health that respects the rights of the individual. It gives me a lot of hope for the future.
The political climate is quite challenging at the moment, with cuts in mental health services. There are also many misconceptions surrounding mental ill health. I would like us to be able to talk openly about the subject, in a society where stigma and discrimination no longer have a place.
Politicians need to invest more in mental health support services that respect human rights, and they should do more to raise awareness. This will lead to cuts in spending and, more importantly, to less human suffering.
I would say to those wanting to work in mental health: be ready to fight the good fight! If you’ve already done some volunteering, that can be as important an asset as your educational background.
I really enjoy living in Brussels. The international environment is fantastic and inspiring, the quality of life is great, and people are open and friendly. To relax, I sing in a small a cappella group called Melting Vox. We focus on classical contemporary music, and we’re currently recruiting a tenor and a bass...
I do miss water here! Not having anywhere to easily go swimming on (rare) warm summer days is hard. It also took me a while to adjust to the Belgian sense of humour… I think I’ve got there, eventually!