The European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) Youth Network, in cooperation with Euro Youth Mental Health (EYMH), organized the joint study session “Mind the Gap: supporting young disabled people’s right to live independently and to be included in the community through exploring mental health as a disability issue”. The study session took place between the 17th and 22nd of June and was hosted by the European Youth Centre of the Council of Europe (COE) in Strasbourg, France. There were 16 participants and 7 Personal Assistants from 15 countries, with different backgrounds and experiences related to disability and mental health issues. The group thrived in this diversity and cooperated during the different sessions and during the free time to build a safe and inclusive space to connect and share ideas, expectations and personal experiences.

The organizing team was composed of Agnes Fazekas, Beyza Unal and Marco Carnesecchi, from ENIL, Hugo Metcalfe from EYMH and Mayssa Rekhis, educational advisor for the Council of Europe. Two palantypists, Norma MacHaye and Julia Jacobie provided transcriptions of the discussion.

The specific goals of the study session were the following: to provide participants the necessary knowledge and skills to understand the common ground on which disability and mental health meet; to support participants to realize the essential role of Independent Living as a human right that applies to all people equally facilitating inclusion in society; to encourage participants to explore disablism, to reflect on their intersectional identities and to develop an identity that is based on pride; to empower participants to be leaders in promoting mental health, Independent Living, and human rights of young people.

The six-day program was designed to allow participants to first become familiar with the key aspects of Independent Living and Mental Health issues and then to work in smaller groups to create activities and raise awareness about these topics. The study session was facilitated using non-formal methods of education, so that participants felt included and able to contribute to the discussion, and felt more open to share their experiences with others. This was also made possible by the personal assistants who joined in the group activities during the breaks and in the free time in the evenings.

During the study session, Jolijn Santegoeds, Board member of ENUSP (European Network of (Ex-) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, and member of the Board of Directors of the European Disability Forum was invited as a key speaker. During the presentation, Jolijn shared her personal experiences of long-term coercion and spoke on how to be motivated by it and how this made her become an activist, starting locally, and then getting involved internationally. She also discussed the campaign of European NGOs to end forced treatment and encourage the Council of Europe to withdraw the Draft Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention. A video interview with Jolijn is available here.

The programme also included a presentation by Alfredo Ferrange, a former Chairperson of the Committee of Experts on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at CoE and an exchange with Dunja Mijatovic, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe. The participants particularly appreciated the informal approach of the Commissioner and asked several questions concerning issues relevant to human rights in their countries.

At the end of the study session, three different groups of participants created their own action plan for continuing the work and putting into practice the ideas generated during the week.

A full report from the study session will be available in the following months. For more information about the ENIL Youth Network, please visit our website. Photos of the Study session are available here.

Our next youth study session will be co-organised with AEGEE in June 2020. Applications will open early next year.