Tribute to Anton Došen
Prof. em. Dr. Ante (Anton) Došen
Croatian – Dutch – Citizen of the world
Husband, father and grandfather
Great connoisseur of music and arts
Psychiatrist and Child Psychiatrist
Professor by special appointment for ‘Psychiatric aspects of intellectual disability’, Radboud University Nijmegen (NL)
Visiting professor at the University of Zagreb (HR), University Tor Vergata Rome (I) and University of Ghent (B)
Head of observation Centre De Hondsberg in Oisterwijk (NL)
Head of the child psychiatric hospital Het Hoekske in Venlo (NL)
Treatment-Director of the centers for treatment of mental and behavioural disorders in people with intellectual disabilities in Nieuw Spraeland (NL), De Wendel (NL), Dichterbij (NL) at Oostrum (NL)
Consultant to the Centre for Consultation and Expertise (CCE) (NL)
Consulting Psychiatrist in numerous other facilities and organizations
Founder, president and honorary president of the European Association for Mental Health in Intellectual Disability (EAMHID)
Chairman of the Section for Mental Retardation within the World Psychiatric Association (WPA)
Co-founder and chairman of the Section for Psychiatry and Impaired Care at the Dutch Association for Psychiatry
Co-founder of NEED, Network for Europeans on Emotional Development
PhD with thesis on ‘Psychiatric disorders in mentally retarded children’
Developer of the Scale for Emotional Development (“Schaal voor emotionele Ontwikkeling” – SEO)
Author of more than 200 scientific articles and more than 20 books
Speaker at numerous (international) conferences, symposia, master classes, lectures and trainings
Godfather and ardent supporter of the Flemish movement SEN-SEO
Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau
Prizes named after him:
‘Anton Došen Thesis Award’ (NL-VL) for the best university master thesis in the field of psychological and behavioural problems of people with intellectual disabilities
Flemish-Dutch prize Prof. Dr. Anton Došen (Education center WIV, P.C. Dr. Guislain and University College Ghent) for ‘innovative’ good practices that build bridges between different sectors
Beyond all these attributions, positions and titles, Anton was an outstanding, yet unpretentious personality, whose remarkable engagement to improve mental health in people with ID had an everlasting impact on enhancing their quality of life.
When Anton started to work with people with ID in the 1980s, many psychiatrists still denied the possibility of mental disorders in this population, but instead attributed occurring disruptive behaviours to the intellectual disability itself. Heavy use of neuroleptics to ‘calm’ people with ID was common and if that didn’t help, they were punished, secluded and restrained, even stereotaxis was considered a valid intervention. It was back then, when Anton first stood up and propagated a different approach and he remained to do so ever since. Not only did he understand that intrapsychic dynamics occurred in people with ID just as in anyone else and therefore mental disorders should be properly diagnosed and treated instead of denied, but he also started to look at the emotional needs of people with ID as an important factor for their mental wellbeing.
Realizing that emotional needs differ according to the stage of emotional development and that a lot of people with ID were lagging in this respect, he designed his ‘Schaal voor Emotionele Ontwikkeling’ (SEO), a scale to assess their emotional needs more systematically. It allowed a deeper understanding of many behaviors of people with ID and led to adapt the environments they live in to their emotional needs. This was groundbreaking, since it worked much better than neuroleptics and restrictive measures. It therefore improved the quality of life for people with ID dramatically. Fortunately Anton did not keep these insights to himself, but published his concept of emotional development in the late 1980s and started to propagate and teach it at numerous occasions, from the Netherlands to Belgium and eventually around Europe, co-founding the Network of Europeans on Emotional Development (NEED). So not without reason, in more and more countries today the systematic assessment of emotional development is considered just as important as IQ-testing in the treatment and care of people with ID.
To improve mental health in people with ID by propelling the quality of their treatment and care, Anton strived to establish a European platform for scientists and practitioners from different professions and countries alike to regularly gather and exchange their knowledge and skills. He reached out to Ken Day and Nick Bouras, who worked on developing specialized mental health services in the UK, to Frank Menolascino from the US and Donald Zarfas from Canada, who established a section on intellectual disability within the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) and to Robert Fletcher, who founded the National Association for the Dually Diagnosed (NADD) in the US. In 1992, sponsored by the WPA and NADD, he organized the ‘European Experts Conference on Mental Health Care for People with Mental Retardation’ in Veldhoven (NL). Delegates from 13 different European countries participated and the event led to the foundation of EAMHID, which was officially registered under Dutch law in 1993. Ever since, EAMHID has biannually organized international conferences on mental health in intellectual disabilities, from Amsterdam in 1995 to the upcoming conference in Helsinki in 2023. These conferences served and still serve Anton’s greater aim to stimulate and facilitate international cooperation and exchange of knowledge and experience in the field of mental health in people with ID.
When we, the addressers, had just started to work as young professionals in the field, Anton’s achievements and his reputation were already so huge, that we almost felt dwarfed and were sort of inhibited to approach him. We had no reason to. He turned out to be a very unpretentious and charming person, welcoming everyone to contribute to his effort of improving mental wellbeing in people in ID. He respected and treated persons on par, regardless of professions and titles. He was never authoritarian, we would not impose something (you should), but gently suggest it instead (you could). He easily ignited us to give our best in order to contribute to aforesaid effort. We believe he has not just inspired us, but a whole generation of professionals to follow his legacy.
A great loss, he will be remembered by his family, his friends, his patients and many colleagues from around the world.
In the name of the EAMHID executive board
Brian Fergus Barrett & Filip Morisse