Summary Report: WASP Asia Pacific Hybrid Congress 2021

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Published by WASP

November 26, 2021

Ravindra Rao, Anju Dhawan, Rakesh K Chadda

Asia Pacific Hybrid Congress of the World Association of Social Psychiatry (WASP 2021) was held at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi on 16th-18th September 2021. The Congress was organized by the Department of Psychiatry and the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC), AIIMS, New Delhi. The theme of the Congress was “Innovations in social psychiatry across the world”. The Congress was attended by 714 delegates from 30 countries from different continents of the world. About 100 participants attended the Congress in physical mode as well.

WASP 2021 Congress was inaugurated by Prof. PC Joshi, Vice Chancellor, University of Delhi, who also delivered the inaugural address. Prof. Randeep Guleria, Director, AIIMS, New Delhi, Prof. Rakesh Chadda, Chair, Organizing Committee, Prof. Pratap Sharan, President, Indian Association for Social Psychiatry (IASP) and Prof Vincenzo Di Nicola, President Elect, WASP and Prof Roy Abraham Kallivayalil, Immediate Past President, WASP also addressed the gathering. Prof Afzal Javed, President, World Psychiatric Association (WPA) also graced the inaugural function in virtual mode.

The scientific programme included plenary sessions, symposia, workshops, oral communications, poster presentations, early career psychiatrist programme and award sessions. The Congress venue included two hybrid halls and 7 virtual halls. Professor Rachid Bennegadi, President, WASP, delivered the Presidential address on anthropology, social psychiatry, and mental health. Prof. Vincenzo Di Nicola, President Elect, WASP discussed the role of Guru-Chela (teacher- disciple) relationship in psychotherapy, a concept given by Professor JS Neki, a famous Indian psychiatrist, and discussed its application in the contemporary psychiatry. Professor Afzal Javed, President, WPA, deliberated on the need for financial empowerment of people with mental illness and shared his group’s experience of providing financial empowerment through microfinance in Pakistan. Professor Driss Moussaoui, Past President, WASP delivered a lecture on developing psychological help services in rural areas. Professor Tom Craig, Past President, WASP discussed about the public mental health consequences of Covid-19 in his lecture. Professor SP Singh, Professor of Social Psychiatry, University of Warwick, UK, discussed the role of early interventions in psychosis and shared his experiences from the UK. Professor Pratap Sharan, President, IASP, discussed the role of student wellness programmes in improving mental health and shred his experience of student wellness centre at the AIIMS, New Delhi. Professor Pratima Murthy, Director, National Institute of Mental Health and neurosciences, Bengaluru, India, discussed the concept of recovery in mental illness especially from the perspective of the background of low mental health resources.  Professor Eliot Sorel from the USA and Past President, WASP, presented his views on pandemic, syndemic, endemic aspects and social contracts challenges in the background of the Covid -19. Professor Rakesh Chadda, Secretary General, WASP, discussed the application and relevance of learnings from the concepts from ancient India in contemporary psychiatry. The programme included a theme symposium on the Congress theme “Innovations in social psychiatry across the world”, which was well covered by Professor Fernando Lolas from Chile, Professor Shiro Suda from Japan, Dr Andrew Molodynski from the UK and Professor Debasish Basu from India.

More than 90 symposia and workshops were presented in the Congress covering different aspects of psychiatry. This included use of online mode to impart mental health training to different service providers, including undergraduate and postgraduate teaching; use of telepsychiatry in addressing mental health issues during COVID-19; impact of COVID-19 on the mental health in different population groups, including migrants, homeless population, and even caregivers; innovations in community service delivery mechanism to address mental health problems; challenges in training and conducting research during COVID-19; innovations in the field of addiction psychiatry; and many other topics. The program included an important debate on whether suicides are a societal problem, rather than a mental health problem, which made for an interesting listening.

There were interesting topics covered in the oral and poster presentations as well. The Congress had 77 oral communications and 58 poster presentations. Some of the topics revolved around COVID-19 included: sleep quality in patients with COVID-19, stress and burnout among professionals and healthcare workers on COVID-19 duty, infodemiological study of mental illness during COVID-19, depressive symptoms in perinatal women during peak COVID-19 waves, neuropsychiatric symptoms following COVID-19, empathy and compassion fatigue in healthcare workers, impact on treatment seeking in patients with mental disorders during the pandemic, managing covid-19 illnesses in patients with mental illnesses, role of community nurses in ensuring treatment engagement of persons with severe mental illness, etc. Some other topics included role of psychedelics in social psychiatry, application of virtual reality in mental health care, coping in alcohol dependence, workplace violence, suicidal behaviour in patients, role of media in normalization of violence against women, internet addiction, caregiver burden in various psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression and alcohol dependence, comparison of different settings for treatment of psychiatric illnesses, integrative community therapy, mental health problems in children, mental health problems in various medical illnesses including cancer and obesity, understanding idioms of resilience among migrants, etc.

The Congress also had an award session for young mental health professionals for ‘best oral’ and ‘best poster’ presentation. The presenters whose papers were shortlisted for consideration under these categories earlier were asked to present their findings with judges scoring their paper and presentations. There were three oral communications and four poster communications shortlisted for presentation. The three shortlisted oral communications included – “Mental health task-shifting for accredited social health activists (ASHAs): Results from a randomized controlled trial”, “Narratives of being a mother….: experience and perceptions related to motherhood in women with severe mental illness”, and “Factors associated with poor response to clozapine in schizophrenia: A study from northern India”. Dr Debanjan Banerjee won the best oral communication award for his work on exploring the experiences and perceptions of women with severe mental illnesses with regards to motherhood. The four shortlisted poster communications included: “Longitudinal assessment of disability amongst patients of bipolar affective and unipolar depressive disorders presenting to a tertiary care centre in North India”, “ COVID-related knowledge, attitude and practices among persons with mental illnesses; “A cross-sectional study of characteristics, patterns and effects of cannabis during COVID-19 pandemic in Delhi, India”; and “Psychiatric and substance use comorbidities among people who inject drugs in India: A cross-sectional, community-based study”. Dr Romil Saini won the best poster communication award for his work on assessing the rates and type of various mental illnesses among people injecting drugs, residing in an urban under-privileged area of Delhi, India. There was also a session for early career psychiatrists at the beginning of the Congress.

Overall, the WASP Asia Pacific Hybrid Congress conducted in trying times as this, can be deemed to be very successful with large participation from different and diverse countries. The Congress provided an ideal platform for exchange of ideas, sharing of concerns and discussing newer ideas for implementation that would help in alleviating mental health problems. It is hoped that the new relationships forged during the congress would foster newer collaborations and generate newer areas of research in the area of social psychiatry.

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