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Mental illness: the family as a key factor

Vienna (14th June 2012) - Mental illness is accompanied by a plethora of environmental factors that themselves have an impact on the illness. “One of the most significant factors is how the patient's family deals with the condition. If relatives know more about the illness, it can influence the way they communicate with the person, which in turn reduces the risk of the patient relapsing.” These are the words of Johannes Wancata, Head of the Clinical Department of Social Psychiatry at the MedUni Vienna, spoken at his inaugural lecture on 21st June in the lecture hall 3 (11:00 a.m.). “It is for this reason that help is also available for relatives at the MedUni Vienna,” says Wancata.

 
Mental illness has been around since the dawn of mankind, and even with the same frequency as today, says Wancata: “What's rising is the number of people seeking professional help.” In the past, it was perfectly possible for mentally ill people to be “carried along” in companies, something which “in our fast-paced age is no longer feasible”.

Says Wancata: “There are therefore no more mentally ill people than there were in the past. People who are ill are simply finding it harder and harder to cope with it.” The exceptions to this are illnesses involving dementia, whose numbers are growing markedly due to the increasing age of the population. In 2000, there were around 90,000 dementia sufferers in Austria. By 2050, according to the experts at the MedUni, this figure is set to be between 230,000 and 260,000.

“This represents an enormous challenge for the future, both for healthcare and social policy and for the individual families affected.”
It is therefore essential to develop concepts geared towards helping people with mental illness so that they don’t “slip through the net” and ensure that these concepts embrace both the patients and their environment. In fact, the concepts should cover the treatment of mental illness and the way society deals with it.


About the person
Johannes Wancata, born in 1958, has worked at the University Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy since 1984, where he also completed the majority of his training to become a specialist in the field. In 1999, he gained his professorship at the University of Vienna's Faculty of Medicine (subject: “The epidemiology of mental illness in non-psychiatric institutions”). During the 2003-04 academic year, he served as a visiting professor at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. He has been Head of the Clinical Department of Social Psychiatry since 2011.