Sehnaz Layikel

Ashoka Fellow
Istanbul, Turkey
Fellow Since 2012


This profile was prepared when Sehnaz Layikel was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.
The New Idea
RUSIHAK was established in 2006 when Şehnaz, a trained clinical psychologist, gathered a group of mentally disabled people and their families together. She realized that the social isolation and lack of access to quality health services they experience represents only the tip of the iceberg: their experience is the result of a set of complex relationships in which people with mental disabilities are not perceived fully as citizens with rights.

Şehnaz was inspired to create a new approach for the mental health field in Turkey; previously dominated by self-help patient groups and psychiatrists associations. Şehnaz’s approach intervenes at three critical points: (i) establishing communities of resistance in mental health institutions (ii) connecting them to a civil monitoring system that creates the outline for the first mental health rights movement in Turkey, and (iii) acting as an intermediary platform that channels its know-how toward reforming outdated laws and dysfunctional institutions.

Within seven years, RUSIHAK has become the first private initiative in Turkey to (i) enter public mental health institutions and open space for democratic decision-making (ii) systematically monitor and report on their conditions and operations from a human rights perspective, and (iii) provide scientific data on the mental health field to inform policymaking at the national level. Most importantly, RUSIHAK places the responsibility to change the mental health system in the hands of people who are “experts by experience:” individuals and their families who have been users and survivors of psychiatric treatments. Because these affected individuals comprise the majority of the staff and management of RUSIHAK, Şehnaz’s organization becomes living proof of the abilities and unrealized potential of the mentally ill.

RUSIHAK’s goal is to overturn the system of top-down medical intervention that continues to dominate the mental health field in Turkey. Her vision is a diverse, comprehensive system that respects the dignity of the patients and prioritizes their full integration and empowerment, rather than isolation from public life.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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