In the past years, according to different studies done worldwide, mental health became a burning issue. Recent research done in the countries of ex- Yugoslavia show increase in the number of people struggling with mental health issues (PIN 2022, Cov2Soul, 2021), and the lack of quality community services and interventions that could offer innovative alternative methods to help prevent the problems, but also offer new possibilities for recovery, improvement of life quality and social inclusion for people who use psychiatric services. Three partners from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia are founding members of the Balkan Hearing Voices Network, which actively provides community mental health services and education in alternative treatments of mental health issues. These two organizations and an institution use different art forms – visual arts, literature and theater/ drama – in providing direct support for psychiatric care users but they also use it as a powerful channel of communication and tool for social change.

The Mad Balkans- transforming psychiatry through art project was tailored to respond to the existing challenges and gaps in the field of free, accessible community mental health services based on the use of art and art therapies, practice that has proven rather successful in providing support to people struggling with mental health challenges, especially with the experience of psychoses (https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg178). Another important focus of this project is the promotion of artworks coproduced by professional artists and psychiatric care users.  The mission of The Mad Balkans project is to create a platform for the use of art as a tool of support for psychiatric care users in ex- Yugoslavian countries, facilitate co-creation of art works by professional artists and psychiatric care users with the aim of social inclusion and international promotion, to offer an innovative art therapy course program to Universities in the region, and the new tool for improvement of practice to mental health staff of psychiatric institutions.

Through active dialogue and joint artistic production of 13 professionals and artists, as representatives of the society in three Balkan countries and 32 psychiatric care users, and trans- border cooperation- 25 unique artworks will be produced through 88 workshops, 288 support groups and 16 meetings. These activities will aim at empowering participants on individual level, and serving as a bridge between people with mental health issues and their surroundings. Through collaboration with the Norwegian partner- Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet), 16 trainings in art therapy and the use of art as a tool of providing support for psychiatric care users will be offered as an innovative practice in the region, through collaboration with Universities and psychiatric institutions, to 120 students and mental health staff, and will be proposed as a part of University curriculum to local Universities by the end of the project. Associated partners- Faculties of art, psychology and medicine- occupational therapy, as well as psychiatric institutions in these three countries and in Montenegro, will take part through referring their students and mental health staff to these trainings, creating the platform for further development of this practice and improvement of the treatment of mental health issues in the future and promotion of art as a powerful tool in providing both individual support and social change. By the end of the project, the Art therapy course program, which will be introduced in OsloMet in 2024, will be translated and adapted to local needs, and will be presented and offered to local Universities as an introductory course to integrate in their curriculum. Through dissemination activities- public events in all partner countries, final event in Oslo, traditional and social media and publication, the Mad Balkan project will impact the public opinion on mental health and people labeled by their society through the diagnoses they’ve been given. Main goal will be to inform the public, decrease fear and prejudice, stigma and discriminatory attitudes and behaviors, thus supporting the social inclusion of psychiatric care users.