Gábor Gombos

Gombos was born in Hungary in 1961 to a mother who battled severe depression. Her illness gave him glimpses into the Hungarian social care system at a very early age. Electroshock therapy was stealing her memory and personality, and years later, she was put under the care of the National Institute of Psychiatry after attempting suicide. Gombos saw how his mother was stigmatized and robbed of her rights. After her death, he found evidence of negligence on the part of the mental care system, and this injustice fueled his decision to become an agent of change.

Between 1977 and 1990, Gombos himself was confined four times to psychiatric wards in Hungarian hospitals. He emerged determined to overhaul psychiatric care, first in his country and then across Europe. In 1993, Gombos helped found the first organization focused on Hungarian mental health issues. The following year, he co-founded Voice of Soul, Hungary’s first organization for survivors of mental health facilities.

Gombos is co-founder of the Hungarian Mental Health Interest Forum, a 300-member organization designed to incubate and network consumer organizations, patient councils, and patient support groups for the mentally disabled. The forum mobilizes patients to become active social change agents throughout Hungary. Consumer organizations, run by individuals receiving psychiatric care, conduct site visits, document human rights violations, and share their findings. Patient councils serve as governance bodies, giving patients a voice in the design, planning, and implementation of social care facilities and programs. And beyond that, Gombos has developed a training curriculum for institutional staff to raise empathy toward and understanding of psychiatric patients.

Protecting patient rights at the policy level is vital as well. With several Hungarian partners and others from Slovakia, Romania, Poland, Slovenia, Czech Republic, and the United States, Gombos organized an effort to influence state policy by building a common strategy. The result: certain paragraphs in the Hungarian Social Law about guardianship have been changed in favor of the patients. He has also been one of the key actors in developing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ensuring its implementation in Hungary.

Today, Gombos continues to train consumers, survivors, and former users of psychiatric care to advocate for change. His ongoing fight for the rights of those with mental health disabilities echoes across the globe.