The world was sick, and
the ills from which it was suffering were mainly due to the perversion of man, his inability to live at peace with himself. – George Brock Chisholm
It was the first Director-General of
the World Health Organization (WHO) who suggested that the World Federation of Mental Health (WFMH) be created. George Brock Chisholm, a Canadian psychiatrist, envisaged the WFMH as an international,
nongovernmental body to provide a link to ‘grassroots’ mental health organizations and United Nations agencies. A radical thinker, Chisholm’s view that “health is a state of complete physical, mental
and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” provided early direction for both the WHO and the WFMH.
Chisholm’s close friend, John Rawlings Rees, a British
military psychiatrist and a founder of the renowned Tavistock Clinic, accepted the challenge. Resigning from the clinic to organize the 3rd International Congress of Mental Hygiene, in 1946, Rees
traveled to New York to meet with the congress parent sponsors, the International Committee for Mental Hygiene (ICMH).
The original purpose of the ICMH was mental hospital
reform. Clifford Beers, a former psychiatric patient, who had suffered dehumanizing treatment and abuse within mental institutions, founded the National Committee for Mental Hygiene in 1910 and the
ICMH in 1919. In the aftermath of WWII, the new ICMH board recognized the need for advocacy in mental health, beyond that of raising standards of care for the mentally ill.
In 1947, the ICMH agreed to change their name to the WFMH
and accept as a new purpose to promote among all peoples and nations the highest possible level of mental health in its broadest biological, medical,
educational, and social aspects. The lead architects of this vision were Rees and Chisholm, together with eminent psychiatrists George Stevenson, Clarence Hincks, Arthur Ruggles and Harry
Stack Sullivan, and noted anthropologist Margaret Mead.