«Without family support our loved ones would be at the mercy of the public health systems which sadly are greatly lacking in resources and proper funding for mental health services and support». Kevin Jones is the current treasurer and former secretary general at EUFAMI, the European federation of families of people with mental illness.
How did your association begin?
«EUFAMI was founded in 1992 after a congress, which took place in 1990 in De Haan, Belgium, where carers from all over Europe shared their experiences of helplessness and frustration when living with severe mental illness. They resolved to work together to help both themselves and the people they cared for».
Your mission is to represent families, why is it important?
«EUFAMI’s mission is to represent all family members of persons affected by severe mental ill health at the European level in order to ensure that their rights and interests are recognized and protected. Why is this so important, you ask? Because of the vital support role which family members provide to their loved ones affected by mental ill health. If this support was not present or was removed, our loved ones would be at the mercy of the public health systems which sadly are greatly lacking in resources and proper funding for mental health services and support».
Why do you think it is necessary to do it at a European level?
«Mental health issues do not recognize borders and families in all countries across Europe experience similar challenges in respect to mental health. EUFAMI is a very unique organization as it is the only European concern which works as a united voice for families of persons affected by mental illness and which understands the very unique issues of the family members, both those who provide consistent care and importantly other members of the family who must live with the various challenges and questions presented to them».
From a European point of view what are the main issues related to mental health diseases?
«Lack of proper investment by governments in respect to families and particularly those family members who provide ongoing support to their loved ones. One of the key findings of a recent survey carried out by EUFAMI in collaboration with the London school of economics and political science is that the average length of the caring week provided by family members exceeds the length of the working week. Another worrying finding is that quality of life for family carers is significantly lower than if they were not caring. There is evidence available from our survey to indicate that governments can realize a positive return if there is an increase in financial investment in family caregivers».
Are there any specifities within each European country?
«Of course, we are aware of various specific challenges faced by families in different European countries. This is especially true for countries in Eastern Europe, where there has been and still is a time lag in integrating mental health services into mainstream health systems in line with recognized best practices. But EUFAMI must concentrate its operations at the overall European Level in order to work for the elimination of inconsistencies in order that we can achieve a level playing pitch in respect to the quality of living for all European families, irrespective of what country where they are citizens».
What are the current goals of EUFAMI and how have they changed over the years?
«Our basic goals or objectives have not changed over the years - emphasis and terminology might have changed somewhat in response to the dynamic environmental, societal and technological changes and to adjust to the new social media milieu. EUFAMI’s vision is the same - that every person affected by mental ill health and their family members receives the understanding and support they need to participate in their community as he or she chooses, and shares in the social, economic and political rights of that community, without exclusion or discrimination».
Did you plan any activity for the European year for mental health?
«EUFAMI has always supported all efforts throughout Europe to promote and raise awareness of positive mental health and the need for an increase in funding for proper resourcing of community services for persons affected by mental health problems and their families. We have not, as such, undertaken any specific activities. Personally, I am of the view that mental health is as fundamental and as vital as is physical health; mental health should be a top agenda priority item at all times - not just for a year. I can see the logic of having special 'time periods' for such diseases as breast cancer, alzheimer's, etc. So, I could see where a special year could be considered for schizophrenia, bipolar or some other severe mental illness».