The World Health Report 2001, "New Understandings – New Hope" proposed ten recommendations seeking to make a difference in the current state of mental health care worldwide. Recommendation number 5 reads: "Involve communities, families and consumers in services and policy-making and support the information of self-help groups…"
To empower the families of service users is the call of the day. This follows the recognition of their deep emotional and instrumental involvement in the care of the family member of any who is affected by a mental disorder, and of their rights to programs tailored to their own needs. Yet, the place of the family as a key stakeholder in efforts leading to the improvement of care and their legitimate claim for support to reduce the stigma that surrounds them are not universally recognized. In many countries families still find that their opinion is not sought, that services for them are not available, and that instrumental and emotional support is not forthcoming. The time for change has come.
This adverse situation is reversing whatever families have constituted a support group or established organizations. Their contribution to legislation, more favorable insurance schemes, or the general respect of human rights is a story of untold efforts crowned by success.
The long way ahead leading to substantive change on the mental health world scene is common to all the constituencies of the Global Council for Mental Health. It is by joining forces that the mental health agenda, postponed by seemingly more important societal issues, could make a decisive step forward. Families of mental health service users, by joining The Working Group: Families of Service-Users for World Mental Health, through their natural representatives, can bring their predicament, hopes and claims to a forum that will act in synergy. The mobilization of World Health Day 2001 under the motto "Stop Exclusion – Dare to Care," owed its success to the mental health service users and their families who rallied together with other stakeholders, and showed the commonness of the platform that unites different groups from all walks of life. Indeed, the Global Council offers the families of service users a further real possibility of advancing their own cause by advancing the cause of mental health worldwide.
For a number of reasons, internal and external to the mental health sector, the possibilities to act are better now than ever before. Society at large is becoming more aware of the burden of mental disorders and of the available scientifically based technologies to face them. The political will is expressing itself in a more decisive way, although not sufficiently. The public is more informed about their rights, and in some parts of the world this information is being translated into concrete action.
The World Health Organization has made constructive steps to bring mental health into public health action and its mental health policies have obtained the endorsement of all member States.
Representatives of families of service used through their Working Group within the Global Council for Mental Health will stimulate and support;