Music festival breaks down taboos about mental illness


Last weekend, the normally tranquil grounds of the Bohnice mental hospital erupted to life for the annual Mezi ploty festival of music, theatre and art. The festival in Prague was just part of many activities across the Czech Republic - all to break down social taboos and raise money for the under-funded and misunderstood field of psychiatry.

Mezi ploty festival, photo: CTKMezi ploty festival, photo: CTK During Communist rule, those who had mental illnesses were isolated. Often people with schizophrenia were locked away into an institution for months on end. The idea was to segregate the mentally ill from the outside world.

Mezi ploty is about reintegrating society with those who have mental illnesses.

"I am here with my friends and I like to have fun and to see actors and music and also to see the place where people with mental diseases are living."

Thousands showed up for the festival over the weekend, mixing in with the mental patients who took part in art workshops, concerts and theatre.

Mezi ploty festival, photo: Jana PaichlovaMezi ploty festival, photo: Jana Paichlova However, away from the festival there are many non-governmental groups that are also trying to break down social taboos about psychiatry and provide employment for those who have mental illnesses.

In 1993, Operation Greendoors started, helping to launch several innovative programs across Prague. The Club in Jeleni and Cafe Na pul cesty - or Halfway Cafe - both offer work for the mentally ill. Jana Polmajzlova of Jeleni explains what it was like early on.

"I think in the beginning it was something new, something strange that the stigma was working quite a lot. That in the beginning, the customers were coming to the cafe just to see how the people with schizophrenia looks like, but because of the work of media and a lot of culture activities that we do in the cafes, the view of the customers changed. "

Mezi ploty festival, photo: Jana PaichlovaMezi ploty festival, photo: Jana Paichlova There are concerts and seminars every week at Jeleni. The bartenders and waiters and waitresses that work there have mental disorders, but are closely supervised and guided.

Petr Korda has suffered from depression since his early teens. He was bullied in school because of a stutter. After being hospitalized when he tried to slash his wrists, Korda was told to go a psychiatric hospital. The thought of an institution scared him so he did not go. After bouncing in and out of several jobs like being a parking attendant and a mailman, he was told about Club Jeleni by his doctor.

"I like it here because I can feel that when I feel sick there is no problem, that my employer will tell me you can have a rest. I like this kind of job because I manage to do it. You see it's the first time I manage to do some job and I feel joy from this."

Jan Pfeiffer has been working in the Czech mental healthcare industry since 1982. He helped to found several organisations to help the mentally ill. He explains the new awareness that developed just over a decade ago.

Mezi ploty festival, photo: Jana PaichlovaMezi ploty festival, photo: Jana Paichlova "Until 1989 psychiatry was just a very closed field. After 1990, the new space for civic society, the new space for non-governmental organizations were opened and on that time there were people with new ideas and special grants for alternative services were opened and just the real community-based approach started at that time."

He concedes that funding these community-based initiatives is the hardest part, as most healthcare money is filtered through the insurance companies to hospitals, and not organizations like Jeleni.

"The classical services of psychiatric hospitals have structural funding. Many of these new services are not structurally funded. They have just to apply for special grants each year and they never know if they will receive grants or not. Of course their situation is much more difficult than these established services. "

Jana Pomajzlova of Jeleni explains what her community care service offers:

"I think that the main thing is to wake up in the morning to come on time, to spend some time at work and do some work. They have to learn some communications skills, some social skills, and of course there are some skills which are in relation to the bartender work. But I feel that the main thing is to be trained again to do some work. "

The critical funding issue in mental healthcare is ever-worrisome. A modern institution like Bohnice is increasingly a rarity. However, cafes like Jeleni, and festivals like Mezi ploty raise money and awareness -- both giving a friendly face to a part of society that has traditionally been locked away and unseen.


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