Chair’s Column March 2013

First INIMH-Sponsored Exchange on Integrative Mental Health Care

J. Lake

As I approach the end of my term as Chair I am very pleased to announce the successful completion of the first INIMH-sponsored exchange on integrative mental healthcare. A central part of our mission is to build bridges between mental health professionals from different cultures and countries through ‘exchanges’ that allow direct contact between clinicians and researchers with diverse perspectives and backgrounds. It is through the direct ‘exchange’ of ideas, opinions and experiences at a personal level that mental health professionals can learn from one another by sharing insights about models of
care and clinical methods used in different countries, including both strengths and weaknesses of conventional or integrative treatment related to efficacy or safety. Most important, open dialog on mental healthcare between clinicians and researchers from different countries will help us build consensus on how to improve models of care and treatments and opportunities for collaboration that will benefit patients in many world regions. The week-long exchange that took place in Havana, Cuba between February 17 and 23, 2013, was an inspiring beginning for all of us.

The first two days of the Cuba-U.S. exchange were taken up with site-visits to four outpatient clinics in Havana where integrative approaches are commonly used to treat mental health problems. We toured these facilities, met with clinic directors and staff, and engaged in lively dialog about all aspects of patient management. The second part of the exchange involved in-depth discussions on a range of issues pertaining to methods and safety, and integrative management of depressed mood, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance abuse, and special issues in children, adolescents and the elderly. We discussed and occasionally debated our diverse theoretical and clinical perspectives on the rational use of pharmacologic agents, psychotherapy and
the range of complementary and alternative therapies (in Cuba are labeled “natural and traditional medicines”). Each discussion was facilitated by one American and one Cuban mental health professional. We were honored by the participation of many thought leaders in Cuban mental health and high ranking academics representing the Cuban Ministry of Public Health. All Cuban participants were invited to join INIMH at no cost. A Spanish-language forum will be created in the near future to provide a context for on- going discussion and planning of collaborative projects with our Cuban colleagues as
well as mental health professionals in other Spanish-speaking countries. Notes from all discussions will be incorporated into a document that will be translated into Spanish, added to our website library, and appended to the forum.

Throughout the exchange we talked about opportunities for collaboration in research and education and we are already starting to discuss a second Cuba-U.S. exchange. Learning about one another’s interests and perspectives through formal discussions about mental healthcare as well as informal conversations during breaks, engendered strong feelings of mutual respect and we soon realized that deeply shared values far outweighed differences in clinical training or ideology. Though we communicated through interpreters in English and Spanish it soon became clear that our common language was the language of compassion for all who suffer from mental illness and that we shared the same commitment as mental health professionals to do all possible for the benefit of our patients within the constraints of our respective economies and models of care. Riding on the success of this first international exchange the board of INIMH envisions many future exchanges in all world regions including South America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Australia. In closing I would like to extend a cordial invitation to all INIMH members to join us in this important work.