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The Protector of Citizens in its capacity as the National Preventive Mechanism has pointed out for years to the shortcomings of the current organization of mental health care. These shortcomings have been recognized as well in the Mental Health Protection Program in the Republic of Serbia for the period 2019-2026 adopted by the Government in late 2019, and the Protector of Citizens expects that the activities envisaged by the Action Plan for the implementation of the Program will be implemented within the set deadlines.

Patients and beneficiaries with intellectual and mental disabilities are hospitalized and institutionalized for a long time in one part of large psychiatric hospitals and residential social welfare institutions, which are understaffed and have adverse material conditions, whereas the respect for their human and patients’ rights is not always possible to exercise. Due to COVID-19 epidemic, the rights of this particularly vulnerable group have been additionally restricted, Mr. Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens states.

However, systemic activities regarding deinstitutionalization have not been implemented, nor have conditions been created for the care and support of persons with intellectual and mental disabilities (and their families) in the local community.

Bearing in mind that, amid the current epidemiological situation (as in similar extraordinary circumstances) the need to improve mental health care system is even more pronounced and significant than in ordinary circumstances, the Protector of Citizens points out to the necessity to do the following without delay: develop a network of community mental health services that will provide comprehensive mental health care, with as few restrictions as possible and as close to the family as possible; employ more people to strengthen the existing specialized services at health care institutions and provide continuous education of employees in the field of mental health.

Equally important segment is investing in the fight against stigmatization and discrimination of persons with mental disorders, raising awareness of mental health importance and investing in mental health reforms to respect human rights and treat persons with mental disorders in accordance with the modern psychiatry principles, Deputy Protector of Citizens, Ms. Nataša Tanjević, PhD emphasizes. As she said, special attention should be paid to particularly vulnerable groups, prevention of mental disorders of children and youth, improvement of mental health and treatment of the elderly with mental disorders, as well as improvement of protection and care of persons serving medical security measures (forensic patients).

Lack of funds for mental health protection allocated from the budget of the Republic of Serbia i.e. the lack of data on the percentage of these funds in relation to the funds allocated for health care in general must not serve as an excuse or be an impediment to the necessary investments in preserving and improving citizens’ mental health.

The Protector of Citizens, in performing the tasks of the National Preventive Mechanism in 2020 and in order to monitor the treatment of persons in the execution of medical security measures, visited the Special Hospitals for Psychiatric Diseases in Vršac and Gornja Toponica, and the findings from these visits will be published within a special thematic report, after completing the planned visits to all institutions where forensic patients are being treated in the Republic of Serbia.

World Mental Health Day is celebrated every year on 10 October at the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health and with the support of the World Health Organization.