US and Hellenic Psychiatry meet in Greece – September 2018

In September 2018 the Hellenic American Psychiatric Association (HAPA) participated in the 83rd Thessaloniki International Fair in Greece. With the US as the Expo’s featured nation, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) provided HAPA educational materials to battle stigma and raise the profile of mental health in a region beset by economic and refugee crises. Represented by former APA Treasurer and HAPA founder Maria Lymberis, and HAPA President and district branch president-elect Philip Candilis, HAPA’s international members joined to host the US Ambassador to Greece, Greek and US political figures, and members of public and academic organizations. Alongside major corporations from Coca-Cola to Google, HAPA set up a booth focused on future educational and collaborative ventures with public, academic, and forensic agencies.

Founded in May 15, 1999, HAPA provides a professional home for Greek-American, Greek, and US psychiatrists as well as psychiatrists throughout the Greek Diaspora. Organized for educational, scientific and charitable purposes in the public interest, HAPA connects philhellenes with US and Greek psychiatry and their international goals. Meeting annually at 6:00-8:00pm on the Tuesday of the APA Annual meeting. HAPA provides a forum for psychiatrists to present scientific work and establish networks for scientific exchange, facilitate professional development, and advocate for the mental health needs of individuals, families and communities.

With tens of thousands of visitors attending the Expo during its nine day course, HAPA president-elect Dr. George Karampoutakis and HAPA Secretary Dr. Georgios Pagkalos gave an interview to the American Hellenic Chamber of Commerce underlining the role of the HAPA in Greece and the reasons for its presence at the Thessaloniki International Fair. Accompanying blogs and media posts raised the profile of mental health for corporate attendees, while rolling conversations with visitors raised awareness of the mental health consequences of natural disasters, namely the wildfires and earthquakes prevalent in Greece, and the educational needs of forensic and police agencies working to address LGBTQ and sexual health needs in the community. Significant contact with Aristotle University and the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) were hopeful signs of future collaborations in education and battling the stigma of mental illness.

The Greek psychiatric contingent represented HAPA at the inaugural reception – organized by the US Embassy and the American Hellenic Chamber of Commerce. Drs.Karampoutakis and Pagkalos, International Member and International Fellow of the APA respectively, were joined by HAPA Counselor Dr. Apostolos Tsiamis, for the keynote address by US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. The audience was a noteworthy gathering of Greek business, political and military leadership.

On September 16, following the Expo, the historic Athens War Museum in central Athens hosted HAPA’s first international conference. Chaired by Drs. Pagkalos and Tsiamis, the conference was welcomed by prominent members of the Greek health and educational systems, namely the President of the Athens Medical Association, Dr. George Patoulis, the Vice Dean of the University of Ioannina, Professor Minas Paschopoulos, and the President of the Greek Early Career Psychiatrists, Dr. Achilleas Oikonomou.

Speakers Maria Lymberis and Philip Candilis were joined by Dr. Karampoutakis and Dr. Anna Polyniki, HAPA Counselor and faculty of the University of Nicosia Medical School in Cyprus. Dr. Karampoutakis’ address exhorted mental health professionals to implement the common goals of the Hellenic, American, and Hellenic-American psychiatric community. Trauma, stigmatization, and the lack of economic resources are common challenges for all three communities, as they are world-wide, he said. Dr. Polyniki offered her university’s collaborative model for overcoming the Scylla and Charybdis of healing the sick and overcoming economic anemia.

Dr. Maria Lymberis’ s keynote offered a historical perspective noting the past difficulties in forming a Hellenic American Psychiatric organization and her own determined efforts over the last 20 years in establishing HAPA as an Affiliate of the APA. She credited the success of HAPA to the support and commitment of the devoted core of HAPA Board members who believed in the need for HAPA in an increasingly globalized world with pressing mental health needs. She exulted in the new energy of the Greek community and the efforts to collaborate meaningfully in ways that serve vulnerable groups. Dr. Candilis followed with the work of his colleagues in the refugee crisis over the past few years, building resilience among Greek humanitarian aid workers and their communities, and offering new research on the process of radicalization. He was clear that the crisis of displaced persons worldwide was a global emergency, not to be borne by countries on the front lines alone.

The conference closed with the documentary film of the Southern California Psychiatric Community, “The Art of Storytelling: The Human Experience of Being a Psychiatrist”. The film energized the audience with the narratives of psychiatrists inspired to join the profession. There followed an animated audience discussion about the concerns of Greek psychiatrists for the future of the profession and the critical importance of the know-how provided through international collaboration and research.

Participants renewed their commitment to attend the 20th Annual HAPA meeting on May 21st 2019 6:00 -8:00pm during the 175th APA Annual Meeting in San Francisco, CA May 18th to May 22d 2019.