How can Igor‘s story influence policy-making for mental health?

A central message of every story, although particularly strong in Igor’s narrative, is the split between the rich personal experience and the reductionism imposed by psychiatric treatment. Igor tells a powerful story, full of tragic and impressive experiences of family life, war, religious divide and discrimination by only his 21st birthday. To simplify Igor’s life into a label of mental illness or cripple does not do it justice, and it is doubtful whether any simplistic intervention such as medication could solve the complex consequences of such experiences on a personality. This story makes one reflect about the role of psychiatry.

What saddens me are expressions such as, “although a user of mental health services, I have equal rights“, implying that equal rights must be won, even in one’s own mind, rather than being rights. Nevertheless, Igor shows that people can demand and exercise those rights, including finding a place at university and a girlfriend.

Again, the hero of this story is Igor, who transcends all that has happened, confronting the challenges and applying his talents to great effect. I wonder whether Igor believes that these experiences have given him strength and inspiration, making him a deeper and more effective person than he would have been otherwise. I look forward to receiving a follow-up story in a year or so.

Dr Matt Muijen, Regional Adviser, Mental Health, WHO/Europe.