Dobrodel: a heart open to the world

Health is more than the absence of illnesses or physical impairments. It is a state of full physical and spiritual comfort, as well as social well-being.

According to the research of the World Health Organization (WHO), as of today more than 450 million people on the planet are suffering from mental illnesses. Mental health is of crucial importance for a person and helps each individual to resist stress and work efficiently, developing his or her skills and realizing full potential.

In order to raise awareness of mental health issues, prevention and treatment of diseases and building up mental health October 10 has been named the World Mental Health Day.

No one is immune to mental disorders. In his interview for the portal Alexander Startsev, head of the Republican Scientific and Practical Centre for Mental Health, chief visiting psychiatrist of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Belarus, admits that the growing number of mental illnesses is a worldwide trend. “The only difference is that in the Western world it is normal to have a personal psychiatrist. In Belarus we are only now getting close to understanding of how important psychiatric guidance  is” – he specifies.

Reform of Psychiatric Care System. Basaglia Law

One of the European countries where people with mental health disorders can get medical treatment, live and work together with everyone else is Italy. It is in this country that the process of deinstitutionalisation of psychiatric care started in 1978 with the introduction of the Law 180 (Basaglia Law).

Franco Basaglia (1924 – 1980) was an Italian psychiatrist who made a stand against using psychiatry as an isolation institution and initiated a reform of the psychiatric care system in Italy. Law 180 drafted by Basaglia was introduced on May 13, 1978. Its main goal was a total replacement of psychiatric hospitals by a range of special services.   

The process of deinstitutionalisation is aimed at the gradual reduction of psychiatric hospitals and their patient capacities (in some countries up to ultimate closure), creation of alternative services and centres for providing effective help to the patients with severe mental illnesses, as well as improvement of their financial and social standing. As an alternative the advocates of deinstitutionalised psychiatric care suggest to create day patient facilities and therapeutic societies, development of social services and rehabilitation centres.

As of today psychiatric hospitals have been completely eliminated in Italy, Switzerland and Sweden.

Clubhouse, as a Model of a Social Service

A model of such a social service in the world is a Clubhouse (CH) programme which helps patients to organise their lives outside of the hospital and restore the skills and the feeling of significance they have lost.

The goals of a Clubhouse are as follows:

  • satisfying the patient’s need for social contacts,
  • building up motivation for following doctor’s recommendations and self-control of the patient’s state of health,
  • social integration of a person with mental health issues (getting an opportunity to be employed and realize one’s potential).

A distinctive feature of a Clubhouse is joint participation of the members in the life of the Club, joint decision making and common responsibility for whatever is happening inside the social club.

There are several conditions for people with mental illnesses to become members of a Clubhouse. One should be at least 18 years of age, showing no aggression in behaviour, stable and having no need to stay in hospital. Such persons should be able to control their own medication taking and come to the Clubhouse unassisted.  

As of today there are more than 400 Clubhouses in the world, only three of them in Belarus (in Brest, Minsk and Vitebsk).

Clubhouse Open Soul in Minsk

On the World Mental Health Day we visited the Clubhouse Open Soul in Minsk. It was established on the basis of the Social Service Centres of the city about 25 years ago. Head of the Clubhouse, Olga Rybchinskaya, told about the weekly routine of this unusual institution. And while having tea with apple pie we got to meet the club’s members. Everyone have their own story of becoming part of this project – be it doctor’s advice or relatives’ recommendation. The reasons however are the same: lives crippled by a disease, lack of communication, need for realizing one’s potential and almost no chance of getting a job.

The goal of the Open Soul project is to help a person believe in him- or herself and start a new life. The members attend courses on psychoeducation and self-advocacy, photoshop and the English language and workshops on computer graphics. Once a week all participants gather for a common lunch and dinner. They cook and set the table together communicating with one another, share their stories, sing songs, play board games. One of the club members told us they sometimes have “days out” – they  go to a museum or on a sightseeing tour together .

Average age of the members of the Clubhouse is 33. Almost everyone has one or even two higher education degree and good employment on the record. A terrible diagnosis and a stamp in the work record book deprived these people of their position and colleagues. As a result people with a mental illness turn in on themselves and constantly feel uncertain about their abilities.

Social Workshop of Vocational Rehabilitation “Dobrodel”

Several workers of the social workshop “Dobrodel” are among the regular visitors of the Clubhouse.

Social workshop of vocational rehabilitation “Dobrodel” (Russian: “dobro” – good, “del, delat” – do) was established quite recently, in May 2018. The Spiritual Father of St Elisabeth Convent, reverend Andrew Lemeshonok, received a suggestion to establish a working facility for people with physical disabilities and mental issues. However, the idea took the final shape a bit later. The goal of this workplace is social and vocational rehabilitation. The workshop has existed for 6 months already, there are 15 people working there at the moment. Each “Dobrodel” member has an individual working schedule which depends on the physical abilities of a person. But there’s a place for everyone.

– Recently the workshop has received a big order: we are making craft bags which are going to travel to international fairs with the sisters of St Elisabeth Convent. Our foreman and chief designer Igor created a design of gift boxes for the Convent’s ceramic products. People will be able to buy unique products of the monastic workshops in beautiful festive packages at Christmas Markets all over Europe. We also make different souvenirs. For example, one of our employees with schizophrenia works from home. He makes beads which we then assemble into rosaries. Our workshop creates greeting cards, decorates wooden combs and toy horses, – tells Anna Kovalevskaya, manager of “Dobrodel”.

Thus, coming to the workshop people with mental illnesses restore self-confidence, get a chance to feel their relevance and significance, realize their creative potential and, quite importantly, get financial support.

It’s important to remember that all people are frail and such a misfortune could happen to anyone. Anyone who lives in a megalopolis is susceptible to stresses, which may result in mental disorders.

That is why it’s crucial to take preventive measures for mental illnesses:

  • spend time in nature,
  • lead a healthy way of life,
  • do sports,
  • spend one’s free time in the family circle, rather than with the gadgets.

Estonians have such a proverb: “Sit with your face to the sun”. Nations from the North constantly experience deficiency of sunlight and sunny days, therefore they know how to cope with stress better than anyone else: surround yourself with things that bring joy, create warm and cozy atmosphere at home and at work, do your favorite hobby, enjoy your favorite food, receive guests. It’s not a coincidence that Denmark has been an all-time leader in the top list of the world’s happiest countries, according to the World Happiness Report supported by the UN.

But if the disease comes nonetheless, let us not make it a barrier between us and the rest of the world. Don’t be afraid to seek assistance from the specialists. Any problem is easier to solve  together. Mercy, love and support is our contribution to this common cause. Saint Paisios of Mount Athos used to say: “A spiritual man is one big suffering. He overtaxes himself, sympathizing with the others, consoling, praying. And, in spite of the fact that he buries the sufferings of the others, he is always full of joy, because Christ takes away his pain and  comforts his spirit.”


Material prepared by Elena Mamonova

Design by Evgeny Prokofiev


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