45 Years & Counting: A Guide to Our Section

Professors emeriti Anthony Mann1 & Siegfried Weyerer2

1Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, UK

2Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim, Germany

Background to development of the Section

In 1972, Heinz Häfner (Mannheim), Erik Stromgren (Aarhus) and John K Wing (London) founded an informal European committee to further psychiatric epidemiology. Five years later, in 1977, the Steering Committee of the “European Symposia on Social Psychiatry” organised its first meeting: “Estimating Needs for Mental Care” held in Mannheim, Germany. Three symposia were subsequently held in Aarhus, Denmark (1979), Hanasaari, Finland (1982), and Copenhagen, Denmark (1986).

At the 4th European Congress of the Association of European Psychiatrists (AEP) in Strasbourg, France (October 1988), the “Epidemiology and Social Psychiatry” section was founded. The first meeting of the Section Committee (seven members of the Steering Committee of the European Symposia on Social Psychiatry, and nine members suggested by the AEP-Committee) took place on October 21, 1988 in Strasbourg. The following members were elected: Chairman (Heinz Häfner), Deputy Chairman (Jules Angst), Treasurer (Martin H Schmidt), Secretary (Siegfried Weyerer).

Since that congress, the Section has organised its own symposium on psychiatric epidemiology and mental health services for subsequent EPA congresses. More importantly, from 1977 to 2020 our Section has organised 20 free standing meetings (see Previous Congresses):  three each in Denmark, Germany and the UK, two each in Austria and France, and one each in Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and The Netherlands. The Section Chair changes every four years (see About us).

In addition to our Section, three major international organisations in the field of psychiatric epidemiology organise meetings on a regular basis: the International Federation of Psychiatric Epidemiology (IFPE), the Section of Public Health of the World Psychiatric Association, and the European Network for Mental Health Service Evaluation (ENMESH). Several members of our Section are also active members of these organisations. With regard to date and topic of planned conferences, we have tried to avoid overlap.

Current status of the Section

The epidemiology and social psychiatry section meetings are the most durable and consistently well attended of the EPA, usually with 200 participants or more. It is important to note that to date local organisers continue to bear sole responsibility for all financial matters to do with the meeting, usually without the assistance of professional event management organisations. Over the years we have tried to keep costs (accommodations and congress fee) low, to enable a large number of young researchers to attend.

In general, the sessions begin Wednesday afternoon with educational courses and workshops for earlier career colleagues and end Saturday noon. Our 20th Biennial Congress, which emerges after a two year postponement induced by the global COVID-19 pandemic, foregoes the Wednesday afternoon workshops for Early Career Researchers. These are replaced by an ECR  social event on the Wednesday afternoon, and a variety of new ECR initiatives including the ECR Prize and ECR Rapid-Fire talks.

Strengths of our SuccessEPA Section of Epidemiology & Social Psychiatry

There are three main strengths that have underpinned this success: 

  1. The policy of all chairmen with local meeting organisers has been to enable as many participants as possible to have an active role, whether as session chairperson, speaker in plenary or parallel sessions or presenting a poster. Submissions for oral presentations are usually grouped according to topic into a parallel session. Plenary speakers are usually a mixture of the well- known and those beginning to publish widely. If there is competition for a speaking slot, the organiser will favour the younger researcher or one from a former Eastern European country where epidemiological research is in its infancy. It is the knowledge that young researchers will always have a prominent place that has kept a loyal international following over these forty plus years – providing an invaluable opportunity to cut teeth in front of a friendly international audience.
  1. The meetings were intended forty years ago to be for a for presentation of epidemiological studies and for social psychiatry research. The latter features less now at our meetings as it has morphed into health service research, which is now the focus of other meetings such as ENMESH. On the other hand epidemiological research has developed. Descriptive, outcome and risk factor studies are still submitted, perhaps of a new disorder or from a new country. Striking over this time has been the growth in the number of submissions of work in child and adolescent psychiatry and among older age adults. Statistical methods have advanced, so our meetings often include workshops led by an expert to help bring participants up to date. Cochrane reviews and other meta analyses are now presented. In recent years, following a welcome trend to open up records to researchers, results from data set analyses studying the impact of psychiatric disorders on the wider health care system, social security and the economy are being carried out and now represented in the section meetings.
  1. The section meetings are by common consent reckoned to be friendly and supportive for those attending. Perhaps in contrast to colleagues in current biological research there is less need to be competitive, to be the first to report something. Data sets take a while to be accumulated and results usually add a layer to knowledge but rarely are a leap forward. Findings from one data set benefit by being revalidated in another. Collaboration is thus key and the meetings provide the forum for researchers in a particular topic to meet and set up a future collaboration.

The meetings are usually held in European university cities, a delight to explore as many are not on the usual tourist tracks. The conference dinner is taken seriously, often featuring local cuisine and wines. Being entertaining in front of 200 expectant colleagues is perhaps the most daunting part of the chairman’s tenure, as he/she has to give the after dinner speech thanking the local organisers.


During the past 40 years, the field of psychiatric epidemiology has grown and developed considerably. Our Section’s biennial symposia represent the largest gathering of psychiatric epidemiologists in Europe. They provide an excellent forum for frank discussions about the new directions in and issues related to our profession, particularly for young researchers.

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