WPA Update: February 2020

WPA Update: February 2020

After my last update to you, in August 2019 I attended the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) Annual Congress in Lisbon, Portugal as the Zone 1 Representative to the WPA Board.  Below is a summary of the report on WPA activities since the last update, including recent updates regarding psychological consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Governance Update

Background: As reported previously, the WPA had been considering governance reforms since its General Assembly in Berlin (2017).  Initial proposed reforms included reducing and restructuring the current WPA Zonal Board Representative structure (the current structure is 18 global Zones).  Concerns were raised that a significant reduction of Zonal Representative Board members would reduce the voice of countries and member organizations. In the event that Canada were embedded into a structure that contained only Canada and the USA, Canada might rarely, if ever, end up with Board representation. This is a matter of particular concern.

The initial reform package was voted down at the 2017 General Assembly. Discussions regarding possible reforms have since continued. Leading into the 2019 Annual Congress, there had been some informal proposals for a simpler restructuring of the Board involving simply reducing the number of Board positions by two, by folding Zone 1 (Canada) and Zone 2 (USA) together into one Zone, and Zone 12 (Middle East) and Zone 15 (Central and Western Asia) into one Zone.  While there was some legitimate rationale for folding Zone 15 into Zone 12 (given the demographics of the countries in each of those Zones, and the fact Zone 15 is very small proportionately with regards to number of psychiatrists and members), this once again raised concerns about Canada being folded into a single Zone with the USA as the only other partner in the pairing, given the risk of Canada losing its voice by being perpetually overshadowed by its much larger partner.  These concerns were effectively communicated, and the proposal to merge Canada Zone 1 and USA Zone 2 was not forwarded for consideration.

The Board did agree to two changes that would not alter the overall number of Board positions, namely that, as above, Zone 15 would be folded into Zone 12 (both of those Zones were supportive of this change), and that Zone 16 (Southern Asia) would be divided into two Zones (Zone 16 currently is comprised of 12 countries, which is excessively cumbersome).

Two other issues were agreed upon to go to the Executive and Planning Committee, specifically that: (1) when there was more than one country in a Zone, that new Board Zonal Representatives should not come from the same country as their predecessor; and (2) that if there were to be proposals to reduce the number of Board Zonal Representatives, that those recommendations should come from the Board itself, not the Planning Committee.  Requirement (1) above would ensure that if there was a situation of one country in a Zone with a much larger partner (e.g. if Zone 1 and Zone 2 were to ever be folded together in the future), the smaller country(ies) would still have opportunity at rotational Board representation.

COVID-19 and Mental Health Concerns

As the current COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread, the WPA is aware of the potential psychological and mental health implications of the outbreak, including psychological responses of anxiety and fear, and potential stigmatizing or discriminatory behaviours.  I have been participating in regular WHO calls on the psychological consequences of the outbreak, and we are also discussing this issue at the American Psychiatric Association Council on International Psychiatry which I am vice-chair of.  The WHO has developed resources that are relevant to health care providers, including a Guide to addressing Social Stigma associated with COVID-19.  Please find that Guide attached to this report, in addition to a general Psychological First Aid Guide for Field Workers.


Under the leadership and through the initiative of Dr. Vincenzo Di Nicola (Montreal), the Canadian Association for Social Psychiatry/l’Association Canadienne de Psychiatrie Sociale (CASP/ACPS) was formally revived and admitted to the World Association of Social Psychiatry at the 23rd World Congress of Social Psychiatry held in Bucharest, Romania, October 25-28, 2019.  Our newly elected Executive Committee and Board of Directors will serve our three-year terms from 2019-2022.  Canada had a strong presence at the Congress, participating in and chairing a number of sessions.  In addition, Dr. Di Nicola was elected President-Elect of the WASP, he is currently serving his term as President-Elect from 2019-2022, and will then take on the role of WASP President from 2022-2025.  Montreal has also been successful at being accepted as host of the 2025 WASP Congress (the Congress is held every three years, with the 2022 Congress to be held in Nara, Japan).


Respectfully submitted,

Sonu Gaind
WPA Zone 1 Board Representative