article from OutLoud (Summer-Autumn 1999)

Users and ex-users of mental health services in Armenia were traditionally deprived from social life and isolated in big psychiatric hospitals or were kept in their families. Practically, there was no possibility to participate in any ways in social life. The mental health care system in Armenia as in any other communist country was designed in a way, that the corner stones of system – in-patient psychiatric institutions - regards their mission more to punish than to care or help.

There is a very important right, from which users of mental health services were deprived – the right of being a part of the society, to participate equally with others in everyday life. In the communist era a majority of them were kept in institutions, far away from communities, under vigilant control of personnel, with trampled dignity, were so called “instructions” gave an extraordinary authority to the personnel and the basis of system was segregation.
Later, with global process of transition in this region, situation started to change all over the region. But still, the mental health system does not satisfy the most important demand of its users – transition from segregative care system to community based services. In Armenia, in 1998 with generous support of Hamlet Trust, Armenian Mental Health Foundation (AMHF) started the process of involvement of users and ex-users of mental health services in the social life. Last year we held series of workshops and seminars for users and ex-users in order to organize self-help groups. All the participants, who were living in the families, express the wish to have an opportunity to participate in social life through the opportunity to work. During the Soviet time in the big psychiatric hospitals there were workshops were there was more or less possibility to work and earn some money, but these workshops were the part of the hospitals, based on the same principles of segregation. At the moment only one hospital in Armenia provides working possibilities (the workshop in Vanadzor hospital was renovated with financial support of British Embassy in Armenia).

This summer AMHF and Hamlet Trust started the implementation of employment project as a follow-up activity of users involvement and in order to satisfy the needs of users and ex-users of mental health services in Armenia. This is a one-year project of carpet production supported employment project. After one year period we hope that the production will become self-efficient. Production of carpets was organized in Yerevan. Principally, we found very important to organize the production in the ordinary place, within the community. We have rented a space in the first floor of “Electronic” factory, which is located about ten minutes from the center of the city. 8 high qualify technologists started to train users and ex-users to produce carpets. The training process will last three month, after that, trainees will take overall responsibility for production. Carpets will be produced with traditional Armenian ornaments. Those ornaments have thousands years of history and were carefully kept over generations. All the materials used in the production are natural. The production is organized on the hand made basis. Family members of users of mental health services do the professional part of the project (like, accounting).
For Armenia it was innovative project. This is the first time in our country when users of mental health services have a possibility of supported employment in community. AMHF, which is non-governmental non-profit organization founded in 1996 by group of mental health professionals, family members, users and is the only NGO in the field of mental health in Armenia where people with different background are united, has taken the responsibility for the process of involvement of users in the social life in Armenia.
The results of the project might be broadly applied to the region as a whole, because the models of creation of similar employment possibilities could be easily used in any of the countries of the region. We want to express our gratitude to Hamlet Trust for sponsoring such a project in Armenia.

You can support the project by ordering carpets