Jan Olav Johannessen

(Biography written at time of nomination)

This accolade to the achievements of Jan Olav Johannessen will inevitably fall short, but we want to highlight his overarching quality as an outstanding facilitator of the personal development of others both colleagues and those experiencing psychosis.

Besides his achievements within ISPS, he is best known internationally for his work with colleagues in the field of early intervention in psychosis from his work in Stavanger and the surrounding county of Rogaland in Norway. Starting back in the 1980s, their early detection and treatment programme and research (TIPS) showed it was possible to substantially sustain a reduction in the duration of untreated psychosis by using educational methods in a community. This reduction was associated with less disturbance and suicidality at the time of earlier detection and better outcomes some years later.

This demonstration of the benefits of earlier access to care of people experiencing psychosis was possible by his facilitation of the development of both the research teams and of the wide variety of educational and reduction of stigma programmes in the community that lead to the early detection. The latter involved working alongside teachers and school children, health workers in primary care and the use of newspapers, radio and television.

As his work in Stavanger developed, he initiated related projects that influenced others locally and internationally. Major examples of this are his leadership in the annual ‘Schizophrenia Days’ conference in Stavanger that often attracted more than a thousand participants from throughout the Nordic countries and beyond. He and his colleagues continued to use the word schizophrenia in the title and design of the conferences,and by doing so effectively counteracting the stigma and lack of hope usually associated with the term. Linked with ‘Schizophrenia Days’ but also of great influence far beyond was the development of “Stiftelsen Psykiatrisk Opplysning, (PsykOpp)” (The Psychiatry Knowledge Foundation ). Through this foundation, information about psychosis and help for families has been spread widely in Norway and translated into several languages.

Jan Olav was Senior Psychiatrist and Head of Department of Psychiatry in Stavanger from 1985-1992 and subsequently Chief Psychiatrist, Division of Psychiatry, Stavanger University Hospital from 1992-2013 during which time he was the leading influence by which Stavanger became very well known internationally for the quality of its services and research. No one who visited the Rogaland County Hospital can fail to have been filled with jealousy at the tangible quality of both the environment for, and staff attitudes towards, those suffering from mental disturbances. Just one example of an innovation of Jan Olav was a 24 hour comprehensive assessment service that allowed perhaps 50% of those admitted to immediately return to thecommunity. On the other hand, there was a conspicuous absence of pressure to discharge persons who needed many weeks of quality ‘asylum’ time and to build up therapeutic relationships and confidence that would survive into the community.

It is important to mention here the importance of the late Gerd Ragna Bloch Thorsen who was the co-instigator of community projects such as ‘Schizophrenia Days’ and the publishing house. Gerd Ragna and Jan Olav and colleagues also led an important long term initiative from Stavanger to support colleagues developing mental health services in the Stavropol area of Russia (some 4000 kms away!).

In recent years Jan Olav has been Professor of Psychiatry and director of research in the University of Stavanger where he has continued his prodigious output now coming to a total of some 140 articles and book chapters, including several chapters in the ISPS Book series, covering early intervention, health service development, and anti-stigma.It is important too not to overlook his encouragement and supervision of the research of others.

Jan Olav took forward his focus on quality of care and continuing service development plans into his Presidency of the Norwegian Psychiatric Association from 2006-11 and his chairing of the Norwegian national committees developing guidelines for both early detection of psychosis and the whole field of psychosis as well as other national committees concerned with quality assurance.

SEPREP is a foundation funded by the Norwegian government since 1993. Its aim is to enhance therapists’ competency in psychotherapy and other psychosocial interventions with persons suffering from the most severe varieties of mental illness and hence enhancing the means by which the fore mentioned quality guidelines can be implemented. Jan Olav has been a key figure in this organization for many years as board member, developer of the programmes supervisor and teacher.

The overall objectives of ISPS coincide with Jan Olav’s professional ethos. He has retained an interest in the psychology of psychosis from early days in his career when he trained in psychodynamic therapy with the Norwegian Institute of Psychotherapy. The work referred to in this citation cannot fail to indicate his keen interest in the social environment, expressed even further by his being elected as labour member of his local community council.  He has been a member of the ISPS international executive most of the time since 1997 and been its President 2001-2006 and 2015-2019. During these times he has facilitated the ongoing development of ISPS and its activities and influence. Those present will not forget the outstanding ISPS conference held in Stavanger in 2000. Most important is his founding and nurturing of ISPS Norway, one of the world’s most active and largest ISPS networks with its high-quality annual conferences.

On reading the above, one would have to read between the lines about his personal qualities as an individual and in group relations. Jan Olav is a quiet person, with an enjoyable sense of humour, a capacity to express his ideas in simple language often with memorable illustrations. It is interesting to reflect on his engrossment with the Beatles, perhaps identifying with their capacity to captivate the world with simple themes – such as ‘All you need is Love’ a theme of one of the Schizophrenia Days conferences – and loaded with symbolism to his life’s work, Jan Olav succeeded in inviting the excluded Beatle, Pete Best, onto the stage at the conference.

Behind his professional life Jan Olav has a very full family life shared with his wife Kristin and their children and grandchildren. Jan Olav loves the time he spends with them in the Norwegian mountains or by the coast as well as his travels, especially to Italy. Kristin, a teacher, has played an active role in the teaching programmes connected with TIPS and in the publishing house.

So this quiet man, now has a place in the ‘Hall of Fame’ with international recognition of his outstanding work in the early intervention in psychosis field by receiving in 2018 the Richard J. Wyatt Award at the 10th Early Intervention in Mental Health Conference in Boston, US, and now in 2019 by receiving a much deserved Honorary Life Membership of the ISPS.

Inge Joa, Ola Marstein, Brian Martindale