Growing number of cafes in Czech Republic helping mentally ill lead normal lives


Community-based care was a little known concept under communism, when the prevalent approach was to keep the mentally ill in institutions, and out of sight. But things are slowly changing, as steps are taken around the region towards destigmatisation and re-integration. In the Czech Republic, for instance, there is now a growing number of cafes which are helping provide the mentally ill with a route back to normal life.

The Kavarna na Pul Cesty, or Half Way Café, is a bright, homely place in the suburbs of Prague. Opened in 1997, it was the first centre of its kind in the Czech Republic.

"Through the café people with disabilities can meet the public in a, let's say, common atmosphere, and be in touch with common life. We want to make a space where people with disabilities can meet the public without any stigma."

Says occupational therapist Jana Pluharikova Pomajzlova.

"For our clients it is quite important that they go to a service which is not really...or you cannot really see that it is a service. For some people it is really important that nobody knows about their history, their experience. You cannot really see that it is some kind of psychiatry service...the stigma is maybe not so strong in that. And the other important thing is that it's much easier to reach the service."

The Half Way Café's clients are young people who are in the early stages of mental illness. Among them is Lubos, a softly spoken young man who clearly values the experience.

"What I get from it is that it is helping me to get some confidence back. In my last job things went terribly, and I got the sack really quickly. But here I feel I am becoming confident again...I take it as a kind of mental preparation for finding a job in the future."

After a maximum period of twelve months it's time for the café's staff to move on, and take the big step of trying to reintegrate with everyday society. Some clients must be sad to leave this cosy, supportive environment. Jana Pluharikova Pomajzlova again.

"Of course, and also for us it's quite difficult too, because we are in quite close contact with them, but it is part of the process. We try to prepare them from the beginning that it is for one year. And we are planning what the client will do after one year...Maybe 40 or 50 percent of people are successful in finding a job."

Do you stay in contact with your former clients?

"We support the clients for a minimum of three months after they finish rehabilitation, or the job in the café. And afterwards we try to stop the contact because we hope that the client already has enough support in his own environment."