INTAR (International Network Toward Alternatives and Recovery) began in 2003 when a group of activists in New York State (USA) met to discuss forming an international network to promote non-coercive, non-medical alternatives to the traditional mental health system. We knew that alternatives existed around the world and hoped that, by bringing together pioneers in this field with other advocates, we could promote genuine alternatives to many other communities.
While institutional psychiatry continues to resist implementation of effective non-medical, alternatives, INTAR has moved forward with its vision. In 2004, the founding group convened 40 psychiatric survivors, activists, and progressive practitioners from 11 countries for a 3-day working meeting in Sheffield, MA, USA. This resulted in creation of a mission statement and a strategic plan. Many participants in the first meeting were people with psychiatric histories who also held a “variety of organisational, professional, and academic roles. Many participants provided support services, clinical services, or were researchers. Most had been active in their fields for many years, as founders or leaders of important organisations in their respective countries.
For fifteen years, INTAR, whose members were primarily from North American and Western Europe, convened and/or co-hosted annual or bi-annual meetings and conferences focused on specific areas of interest and alternative approaches. These gatherings brought together experts in alternatives with larger audiences, and sometimes resulted in new initiatives in public mental health and advocacy.
As an open network without officers, paid staff, a board of directors, or other bureaucratic trappings, INTAR is unique. It collaborates with local organisations in many countries to advance its goals and to stage events with international reach that are firmly rooted in local structures and alliances. Each new event is planned by an ad hoc group composed of “old hands” and newer activists.
In 2016, INTAR took a change in direction. Recognizing a need to expand its collaboration more globally, particularly in the global South, INTAR partnered with Bapu Trust in hosting a conference in India. We also recognised the need to consolidate an organisational structure, while maintaining the open network format. Staying true to the original philosophical and values-based approaches, INTAR entered a new phase, with a strong focus on rights-based approaches, as expressed by the psychiatric survivor movement, global policy reports, and grassroots community responses. In our work to reimagine INTAR, our network name has evolved to International Network Toward Alternatives and Rights-based Supports, retaining the acronym INTAR.
We are currently working toward the goal of convening a global dialogue to develop a strategic partnership of organizations with similar values and objectives. This partnership will work to displace the biomedical psychiatric system by promoting effective, non-coercive, rights-based alternatives and supports that contribute to establishing the new paradigm.
In 2021, we are convening a series of online critical dialogues that we hope will provide cross-cultural learning and showcase effective alternatives across the globe.
We are also restructuring our online presence and organizational structure, providing transparent concrete governance. We are still in flux; our metamorphosis is not complete. We look forward to seeing how we have grown as our seasons unfold.
Much of our recent discussions have been enhanced or stimulated by four reports:
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (2017)
Turning the tables: The imperative to reframe the debate towards full and effective participation and inclusion of persons with psycho-social disabilities (INTAR India/Galway/Trieste conversations report supported by TCI Asia)
Final Bali Declaration by TCI - Asia Pacific (2018). The Bali Declaration calls upon stakeholders to ensure compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and reasserts the rights and demands of persons with psychosocial disabilities from Asia and Pacific region in accordance with the guarantees of CRPD.
Report of the Special Rapporteur on right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (June 2020)
These reports and our discussions point to an emerging consensus that it is possible for independent organisations to come together as a coalition on specific issues in response to the abuses of traditional mental health systems, while still respecting regional diversity.
INTAR is moving forward in several areas addressed in these reports:
Help consolidate established effective alternative approaches as part of the new paradigm in mental health, rather than be perceived as alternative or complimentary to mainstream mental health services
Showcasing, systematising, and disseminating information on rights-based practices and supports across the globe.
Challenging the effectiveness of traditional models and interventions by what does not work.
Building a widely accessible repository of alternative practices and literature reviews
Gathering, showcasing, and archiving personal testimonies, to give life to the evidence
Developing a publicly available roster of experts on alternatives and rights-based approached available to provide training and technical assistance to countries and development agencies.