World Mental Health Day Conference Report from Brussels

October 10, 2023

Nele Fiers, EMTC Vice-President, and Lieselotte Steenkiste, Country Representative for Belgium, share their experiences at the World Mental Health Day Conference in Brussels:

The organising team of the EU Health and Food Safety Commission invited the European Music Therapy Confederation to share some music in the packed program of the World Mental Health Day Conference in Brussels on 10th October 2023. Katie Owens, Information and Communication officer at the European Commission, explained that they reached out to the EMTC because they had appreciated the poster we presented about the role of music therapy in European Mental Health Year 2024 at the online event on 21st April entitled “A Comprehensive Approach to Mental Health”.

Arriving at the fabulous Brussels venue Concert Noble, it was immediately clear that the EU Commission, and the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides really wanted to put both this event and the overall topic of Mental Health front and centre. The conference was structured in 4 cycles, each containing a personal story, a keynote speaker and a panel discussion.

At times, the big hall fell completely silent as powerful stories were shared. We were struck by the video message of Olena Zelenska, First Lady of Ukraine, pointing out the immense pressure on the mental health of all citizens of Ukraine. Rozina Spinnoy, a member of Mental Health Europe, shared the extreme situation she and her family experienced when she had to call emergency services because of the acute suicidality of her son.

There were also big rounds of applause. Her Majesty Queen Mathilde of Belgium set the tone with the phrase:

“There is no health without mental health.”

Catherine Brogan, President of Mental Health Europe, was passionate about diverse dimensions of mental health and her mission to find inter-departmental, cross-sectoral and cross-border answers, stating that we need a long-term view on this issue.

Then we came to the report of the Commission Communication on a comprehensive approach to mental health. Extensive consultations with member states, citizens and stakeholders (including the EMTC), resulted in a report with a clear statement of needs. It is impossible to summarize the report, but here are some of the topics mentioned during the conference:

  • access to personalised and human treatment;
  • high-quality treatment;
  • attention and inclusivity for vulnerable and minority groups;
  • equality between member states;
  • the importance of the community;
  • prevention;
  • and last but not least, a holistic approach!

It was a huge compliment to all music and arts therapists when Belle de Jong, the excellent moderator of the event (who also testified about a psychotic episode that is well worth watching) invited us to the podium with the words:

“We’ve been talking about a comprehensive approach to mental health, but we can’t do justice to such an approach in a conference that is just speaking, because that’s not the only type of therapy there is, that’s not the only type of communication that helps people. So, it’s time to put our money where our mouth is.”

The audience joined in when we invited them to play a two-layered body percussion accompaniment while we sang the song “Follow the Sun” by Xavier Rudd. After the music, there was a final panel discussion. It was so good to hear the last question of the conference lead to the panel explicitly agreeing about the importance of arts therapies in mental health care!

The day was very intense but made us feel hopeful. There is a sense of urgency for expanding holistic mental health care.