Institute of Mental Health (IMH) was founded in 1963 as the first psychiatric institution in the Balkans to employ a comprehensive psychosocial approach to treatment. It is located in the central municipality of the country’s capital city, Belgrade. The principle of “open door” was introduced, making possible the community-based treatment. Since its very beginnings, the Institute started and then continued to implement and introduce pioneer initiatives in the field of mental health. Its activities are primarily focused on three main areas: treatment, evaluation and research.
The Institute encompasses three clinics with 120 beds for: adults (with two departments: for psychotic and affective disorders), children and adolescents, and for substance abuse. IMH also includes 8 day hospitals – three for adults (for affective, psychotic and neurotic disorders), one for children, one for adolescents, and two providing treatment for alcohol abuse (one community-based), as well as a day hospital for adolescents in the community for patients with addictions. Around 300 persons are examined in the outpatient clinic every day. In addition to this, the Institute also includes departments and units focusing on the following areas: medical genetics, clinical neurophysiology, clinical studies, research and training, family therapy, psychotherapy, third age, and the Section for Protection of Children against Abuse and Neglect, the only one of its kind in the country.
The IMH bases its work on a multidimensional, biopsychosocial approach to treatment, focusing on the person as an individual. The majority of psychiatrists have completed some form of psychotherapy training, and psychotherapy is applied in both inpatient and outpatient conditions.
Four psychosocial clubs make an important part of the IMH’s operations: for recovering alcoholics, for the third age (the elderly), for persons with chronic mental disorders, and for adolescents (“Passage”). The clubs are vital for maintaining remission, prevention of relapse, renewal of healthy potentials, as well as for mental health promotion.
The varied range of responses to traumatic events seen in individuals and groups is an important lesson and a challenge for all mental health professionals. It has led to self-education, as well as to education of other professionals and coworkers. The result was development of specific treatments, programs focused on prevention, and research into psychiatric pathology occurring after traumatic events.
IMH has established excellent cooperation with the NGO sector. Numerous joint programs have been conducted with an aim to provide mental health aid to refugees, former prisoners, traumatized children and elderly persons. Among others, cooperation has been established with organizations such as UNHCR, UNICEF, “Save the children”, “Caritas Italiana”, “Swiss disaster relief”, IOM, Red Cross… An anti-stigma campaign has also been conducted, in cooperation with the NGO sector.
The IMH is a teaching base for graduates and post-graduates at the Faculty of Medicine, Faculty of Political Sciences, Psychology, Special Education, and School for Applied Health Sciences. It provides tens of accredited CME courses – for nurses, social workers, psychoanalytic therapy, mental hygiene, response to psychological trauma, systemic family therapy, etc. Continuing medical education for general practitioners in the field of mental health is organized as of 2000 (in cooperation with the Public Health Institute in Sarajevo and the Committee for Human Rights of the Norwegian Medical Association).
Special attention is paid to young professionals. At a time of severe crisis in the state, when many doctors are unable to find work (830 unemployed in Belgrade) and after years of a huge brain drain (according to estimates, around 300,000 young people since the beginning of the crisis, including numerous intellectuals), 15 young doctors, psychologists and social workers have been employed at the IMH. All of them have achieved excellent academic results and possess a range of qualities, including strong motivation and interest in psychiatry and mental health as the most prevailing.
The Research and Training Department coordinates research in numerous fields, such as trauma, personality disorders, stress resilience, comorbidity, transgenerational transfer of traumatic experience, and child abuse. Its strong publishing activity focuses on the journal “Psihijatrija danas” [“Psychiatry Today”] published by the Institute, and more than 100 books published by the IMH experts. IMH has participated in several multicenter research projects CONNECT (PTSP pathology), which included eight other schools of medicine: 3 from the EU (London, Dresden, Modena) and 5 from the territories of former Yugoslavia. The project was supported by the EU within the framework of FP6 and lasted from 2004 to 2006.
At the moment, IMH is a partner in an exciting new project titled “Copy number variations conferring risk of psychiatric disorders in children”. The aim of the project is to identify genetic variations that increase the risk of developing serious mental disorders in children and adolescents. The project is supported by the EU within the framework of FP7 (2009-2012).
The role of laws and provisions regulating mental health
In January 2003, the Republic of Serbia Ministry of Health founded the National Committee for Mental Health, with registered seat at the IMH. The Committee served as the coordinating body of the mental health project initiated by the South-Eastern Europe Stability Pact, titled “Enhancing social cohesion through strengthening community mental health services”. The Committee drafted the National Mental Health Strategy, approved by the Government in January 2007. The Committee also prepared a draft law on the protection of rights of persons with mental disorders. The national alcohol and drug abuse program has also been approved.
Collaboration with the WHO
IMH has established close cooperation with the World Health Organization years back. It participated in numerous programs (among others, 7 WHO books have been translated). On September 24th 2009, it was designated as a WHO Collaborating Center. As a part of the arrangement with the WHO, IMH implements prevention programs supported by the Ministry of Health: prevention of suicide and violence in children and adolescents, prevention of alcoholism, and mental health care for families of persons suffering from psychiatric disorders.
The Institute has established close cooperation with the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) (director of the IMH was the WPA Zonal Representative for Central Europe and is currently the Vice-President of the Psychiatric Association of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, an affiliate association of the WPA.