Monthly self-help meetings
We organise monthly self-help meetings in regional groups in Flanders (the Flemish speaking part of Belgium). During these meeting we give both information on bipolar disorder and depression and we give participants the opportunity to share their experiences. The combination of information and personal exchanges make the working of the Ups & Downs groups very unique. The participants feel that they are no longer alone and can share their experiences with other sufferers. Often people help each other with practical tips and ways to cope with the ups and downs of the bipolar disorder.
At the moment we have eight groups in various cities of Flanders: Aalst (Alost), Antwerpen (Antwerp), Brugge (Bruges), Gent (Ghent), Kortrijk (Courtrai), Hasselt, Leuven (Louvain), Mechelen (Malines). These groups are run by volunteers who are often themselves patients or family members of patients.
At the moment we have about 20 – 25 active volunteers working for Ups & Downs all over Flanders in the regional self-help groups and in the Board of our organisation.
Ups & Downs gets practically no financial support from the Flemish or Belgian government and has no funds to employ professional staff members. We survive mostly on spnsorship. Our sponsors are mostly pharmaceutical companies as Eli-Lilly, Glaxo Smith Klein, Janssen-Cilag, Schering-Plough, Pfizer, but also bank such as KBC and the National Lottery of Belgium have supported us in the past.
In view of this sponsorship we manage to maintain our autonomy and Ups & Downs is an organisation that is run completely by patients for patients. This is our strength but also our weaknesses, as sometimes volunteers are out of the running with a manic or depressive episode. The volunteers are also available as contact persons for their regional groups and get calls of potential participants concerning details of local meeting dates and meeting programmes. Often volunteers help the callers by listening to them end giving them first hand advise from their own personal experience. Of course we do not give any psychotherapy or don not interfere with prescribed medication. In those cases we always refer to professionals and advise that people contact their family doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist.
Collaboration with professionals
We also collaborate well with professionals in asking them to be guest speakers in the regional self-help groups or at seminars that we organise. We are becoming well known for our expertise in professional circles and many doctors see us as a useful addition to their own therapy. In many cases they refer patients to our self-help groups. Often volunteers from Ups & Downs give lectures in schools, mental health centres, educational sessions in psychiatric hospitals and at other events where a larger public is reached. We participate at all kinds of initiatives to fight stigma and have also published our own self-help manual where all current information on bipolar disorder is brought together.
People can become member of Ups & Downs and the membership fee only comes to 10 euros per family. In exchange they receive our newsletter and can benefit from reductions on seminars or other events that we organise. Our newsletter, Ups & Downs appears 4 times a year and is distributed to our own members (around 300 people) and to a much larger public thanks to a very successful collaboration with the VVGG (Flemish Organisation for Mental Health) that has until recently been run by Paul Arteel (former Secretary General to Gamian 2006 – 2008). Thanks to Paul our own newsletter is also sent together with Psyche, the newsletter of the VVGG, to about 2000 professionals in Flanders (psychiatrists, hospitals, day-care centres etc.).
Ups & Downs has started their work in 1995. During the pas 13 years of activities, we have also collaborated with many partner organisations in Belgium such as the VVGG, Similes (organisation for family members of psychiatric patients in general), Uilenspiegel (patient rights organisation), Trefpunt Zelfhulp (organisation grouping all self-help organisations both on physical and psychological disorders). The long lasting stable collaborations that we have established with the above mentioned partner organisations reinforce our strength and conviction that we are slowly becoming an important partner within the Belgian Mental health field. We hope that in the future we may get financial support from the Flemish government, but nothing is sure on that level. For now, we do a good job with very limited resources and can only count on the energy and the enthusiasm of our volunteers. That is why contact with other international self-help organisations is so important to Ups & Downs.
A word of thanks from our director:
"While participating at the recent convention in Jerusalem I was so happy to get acquainted with lots of fascinating people from all kinds of self-help groups on bipolar disorder. I came in contact with people from Spain, France, Canada and spoke to participants from Russia, Sweden and other countries. This for me was a kind of self-help session. I saw that I was no longer alone with my little Ups & Downs group in Belgium and I felt part of a much larger network. This gave me lots of new energy and I felt supported by others. This is what GAMIAN is about for me: contact, support and establishing a network to find a common ground within Europe. I am also very glad to be able to join the Board of GAMIAN and I am looking forward to a fruitful collaboration.
Thank you, GAMIAN. Thank you, my new friends from all over Europe, Canada and Israel."