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27/01/2010 - Submitted by: Tilia Bousios

In early January we heard the sad news the Dr. John Henderson, a member of the ProMenPol project team whom many of you will have known and respected, died on the 4th January. John passed away peacefully at home, in the company of his family, and after a characteristically determined and dignified fight with cancer.

John served Mental Health Europe as a senior policy adviser, and the Director of Mental Health Europe, Mary van Dievel said:

"We will all deeply miss him, but we are lucky to have such good memories of all he has done. John was a true European, believing deeply in the benefits that come with partnerships and collaboration in Europe and the European Union. He dedicated his life to improve the lives of others less fortunate. Lately he had been involved in working towards a better mental health for people and communities in Europe. We will not only miss John for the warm person he was, but we will also miss the wisdom he had and shared."

Writing in The Scotsman newspaper, Dr Bill Boyd summarised some of John's career achievements:

"In 1976 he was appointed mental health adviser to the World Health Organisation's south-east Asia office. Based in New Delhi, Henderson brought his expertise and passion to a huge "parish", which stretched from Pakistan to Outer Mongolia, serving a quarter of the world's population. His accounts of his travels and his meetings with local political, medical and community leaders were always fascinating, and his special skills in firm and fair diplomacy, and his experience and abilities in bringing people, professions and politicians together helped make an impact in a region where, at the time, mental health and the rights of people with mental illness were significantly neglected.

Returning in 1980 to Europe, this time as the mental health adviser to WHO's European office in Copenhagen, he remained for the next five years involved in developing a wide range of mental health programmes across Europe at a time of considerable political and social upheaval. His work focused on the reform of psychiatry and the de-institutionalisation of outdated asylums in eastern European countries, helping to ensure they addressed some of the appalling human rights abuses suffered by the mentally ill.

He threw himself into the European mental health scene - first with the European Council of the World Federation of Mental Health, becoming president from 1994-97."

Some of you will know Gregor and Nigel, two of John's four sons through their work on mental health work. Over the last few years I came to know him through the work I have been doing on an EU level. John was a psychiatrist, in the social mould. He cared for people, not disorders, and from his early days in practice in Aberdeenshire to his last days of work only months ago, he was tirelessly committed to the cause, and took it, with eloquence and effect to the highest levels of policy and government.

At the Scottish Office and later with the WHO in South East Asia and Europe, John championed dignity for people with mental illness, de-institutionalisation, recovery, and person centeredness. When he retired from clinical practice he continued to work tirelessly for NGOs in mental health.

He was one of the international observers who worked with the EC and Greek government to open up the hospital on the island of Leros, where many people with mental health problems were treated appallingly, isolated and restrained. He helped change the system, with the support of the EC and the government, bridging the gaps, and bringing together disparate viewpoints. He continued this work in eastern and south-eastern Europe in the last decade. He will be sorely missed there.

John managed to reach and influence policy and politicians at highest level, whilst never 'selling short' the ordinary man or vulnerable person for the often tempting compromise that risks being a lowest common denominator. He taught me a lot about dancing on that line, about harnessing passion and drive so it becomes fusion and not fission. I was privileged indeed to be able to call on his advice, and learn at his feet.

Chris O'Sullivan

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Chris O'Sullivan