- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 May 23, 2003 

Healthy Outlook: Visitors to Day Center find new view on mental disorder

In the center's TV room, Visitors can watch television, play cards or nardi or just socialize.

A small white building in the city is filled with natural light and on its open roof plants, including some vegetables, have begun to sprout.

Inside the building's rooms there is calm and the normal mix of joy and worry.

Not so long ago - and maybe even now for some - it would seem impossible that this could be an Armenian center for patients with mental disorders.

The Mental Health Foundation's Day Center is a new page in the history of medicine in Armenia. It was opened three years ago with assistance from the Open Society Institute (OSI) and aims to give this area of health care a level of attention it has never received here.

Historically, patients suffering mental health problems were warehoused by a society that treated such ailments as curses rather than illness. That the center is an out-patient facility is especially revolutionary.

"Hospitals where people are treated, are functioning in Armenia but what happens to people after treatment is not clear," says program manager Karen Nahapetyan. "Many of them cannot adapt to life outside hospitals and return again. Our goal is to found communal programs and help people with such problems become a part of the community in their 'after hospital' life -- to help them feel self-sufficient as far as possible."

Special groups and training sessions are offered for that very purpose. Five days a week visitors are offered various skills-training classes as well as cultural events and common socializing.

The center offers a sitting room, a library a TV room. But it is the art therapy classes that have greatest response. During those sessions visitors' thoughts and concerns, hopes and joys are transfused to paper and clay.

Program manager Karen Nahapetyan says their main goal is to help people with mental problems not to feel outsiders when they're back in the community.

"By means of painting and pottery visitors try to overcome everything that had been accumulated," says art therapy tutor Ani Baghdasaryan. "They like to paint very much. We organize exhibitions as well. Their state of mind and moods are reflected with colors. Dark colors say that the problem exists. It also helps to understand them."

Personnel say one of the most favorite hours for the visitors is when they help out themselves; when they gather in group and start listening to each other's problems and disturbing issues without interrupting, trying to find solutions by their own forces.

"I feel self-sufficient here," says one man who is a regular visitor. "Everything was terrible in a mental hospital, where I was treated. I'm not talking only about beating and violence but about the way they treated us. They didn't want to understand us. They didn't treat us as people. But here everything is completely different."

"The word 'patient', which we've got used to over the years, is never addressed to us in the center," says one woman. "You can be cool there and talk about everything that disturbs you and nobody will look at you strangely. And if you want you can talk to a psychologist face to face. It's very normal."

A unique environment has been created at the Day Center. All celebrations and birthdays are celebrated and recently two visitors have even fallen in love and gotten married.

According to Karen Nahapetyan the Center has had visitors from age 25 to 73, with about 40 different disorders. Still, he says the center is only reaching a portion of those who need its special care.

"The number of those who wish to visit the center, is very big. We don't even make announcements or put advertisements as we can't receive everyone," Nahapetyan says. "We have friends in mental hospitals and polyclinics who recommend people to visit our center as we haven't got any other ways of working yet."

In Building No.58, apartment 6, a new kind of mental health care is being practiced.

Nahapetyan says that people with mental health problems first of all need good treatment.

He also says that society's reaction toward those with mental disorders has been evident.

"We rented buildings in different areas and the attitude of society towards people with these problems became clear from the neighbors' behavior and reaction at our visitors," Nahapetyan says. "Even offices of the heads of districts try to avoid assisting us in questions of renting buildings when they find out about our activities."

Nahapetyan assures that in case they find new and bigger buildings and get assistance from the local authorities, the center will be able to expand its activities and to help and render psychological assistance to more people.

"The example of this institution explains the fact that our republic extremely needs structures like that," says coordinator of the healthcare program of Assistance Foundation of OSI Anahit Papikyan. "Every year OSI shortens its funding so that local authorities can (get involved financially). If the government realizes the importance of such institutions then the concern will probably appear. We are trying to show that and make them understand as well. If before they didn't want even to notice this field then these days there is a progress as they started to realize that all of this is important but they still don't know how they must assist."

According to Agnes
  Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.


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