Mental health support for British nationals in Belgium

first. Getting Help

EMERGENCIES: In an emergency, or if you are seeking urgent help you can:

  • Call 112 for an ambulance
  • Call 101 for the police
  • Go to an A&E (les urgences/spoedgevallen) in any hospital

Local telephone numbers and organizations for non-emergency support can be found at the back of this guide If you are having mental health issues in Belgium,

We can:

  • listen to you and help you look at your options
  • help you to contact friends and family members if you want to
  • visit you in hospital or prison in line with our usual procedures
  • raise any concerns about your treatment or welfare with the responsible authority (for example with a hospital or prison)
  • help medical staff in Belgium contact medical staff in the UK who may be able to provide advice on your medical history
  • give information about local medication suppliers
  • be available, as appropriate, to offer you assistance if you choose to remain overseas
  • liaise with your travel rep or travel insurance company, if you want us to

Whenever possible we will ask your permission before taking any action on your behalf.

We cannot:

  • give advice on mental health issues
  • buy or supply medicine
  • withhold or remove a passport
  • stop you from traveling abroad
  • require you to return to the UK
  • pay for you to return to the UK
  • pay for food, accommodation or medical bills
  • get you better treatment in hospital or prison than is given to local people

2. Visiting Belgium

2.1 Before you travel

Check out our Foreign Travel Checklist and Travel and Mental Health advice from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development office to help you prepare for travel and staying safe abroad.

Make sure you have a valid European/Global Health Insurance Card (EHIC or GHIC).

If you are going to travel to Belgium, ensure you have a valid EHIC or GHIC depending on what applies to your situation. You can apply on the NHS website or by phone:

Telephone: 0300 330 1350

Outside UK: +44 191 283 3909

Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm and on Saturday, 9am to 3pm (UK time)

2.2 Get insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you travel. An EHIC/GHIC does not cover all costs that you might incur and you may have to cover some of this yourself, which can be expensive. Some insurance companies will exclude cover for a mental health condition, so it is worth shopping around.

If you need specialist insurance, organizations such as MIND have information on insurance cover including a list of specialist insurance providers.

The FCDO information on foreign travel insurance also includes contacts for more information and help finding specialist insurance.

2.3 Prescriptions

If you are on holiday in Belgium or have moved to Belgium without yet obtaining health insurance (mutuelle/ziekenfonds) and you require a repeat/replacement prescription, you should be able to approach a local pharmacy who will be able to provide advice.

Carrying a copy of your prescription can help to find the exact or similar medication. You will have to pay for your prescription at the pharmacy. Your EHIC/GHIC does not cover the costs for prescriptions and you will not be able to claim a refund.

Most pharmacies in Belgium operate on regular working hours with a telephone number operating 24 hours a day. If a pharmacy is closed the nearest open pharmacy will be displayed on the door/window. You can also use their online service to search for pharmacies.

3. Accessing help as a resident

You can choose to see either your local GP (médecin généraliste/huisarts) for a referral or find a psychiatrist, psychotherapist or counsellor directly. The advantages of seeing your GP in the first instance would be to avoid long waiting lists and to ensure your mutuelle/ziekenfonds will assist in costs.

If you wish to contact a psychiatrist, psychotherapist or counsellor directly, you can use the helena website, the website of the Belgian Federation of Psychologists or the Belgian Association for Psychotherapists. You can filter by language. Further English-speaking psychologists and therapists in Belgium can also be found at CHS Mental Health Services Centre.

Many health insurance funds partially repay the costs of psychological or psychotherapeutic help but the conditions and vast amounts – you should check directly with your health care cover.

4. Compulsory hospitalisation in Belgium

Similar to the UK, in Belgium people can be hospitalised without having given their consent, if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others. Laws or practices on compulsory hospitalisation (mise sous protection/gedwongon opname) in Belgium are different to that in the UK, in both procedure and law. Compulsory hospitalisation can happen if a doctor concludes that any of the three conditions or all of the three conditions are met:

  1. you have been diagnosed with a mental illness
  2. you put your health and safety at serious risk or you pose a serious threat to people’s lives or integrity
  3. the treating doctor cannot see any possibility of any other appropriate treatment

The process can happen in one of two ways:

  • general procedure: Family members or a GP can submit a request to the justice of the peace (JP) (vrederechter/juge de paix) together with a medical report. Within 24hrs of the submission, there will be notification of a hearing with the JP for the final decision to be made. This normal procedure happens in only a minority of cases; the most forced hospitalisations are emergency procedures

  • emergency procedure: In these cases, the police initiates proceedings by reporting to the public prosecutor’s office (parket/parquet) in the first instance. Depending on the verdict of the public prosecutor’s office, the patient will then, await to have a hearing with the justice of the peace and a psychiatric assessment in hospital. This must take place within 5 days of admission to hospital. It is possible that you might have been brought to another hospital for this assessment. Usually the hearing takes place in a room at the hospital, although sometimes it can be at the district court

In both cases, there is a maximum observation period of 10 days before a hearing must take place in front of a justice of the peace.

Initially, the hospitalisation will be enforced for a period of 40 days. At least 15 days before the expiry of this 40-day period, a further medical assessment is made and sent to the justice of the peace to determine if there is a need for a further stay. The patient must again appear before a justice of the peace who will then decide if further hospitalisation is required.

For these hearings, you will have a Pro Bono (Pro Deo) lawyer assigned. You are free to change this pro-bono lawyer for a private one, or to apply for another pro bono lawyer through the Legal Aid Bureau.

Find an English speaking lawyer.

Certain patient rights continue to apply. Your lawyer can inform you about the following rights:

  • visits and contact
  • correspondence
  • privacy
  • legal representation
  • freedom of movement

Aside from legal fees, there may also be other costs involved, such as administrative, hospital and court costs. If and how much you have to pay depends on your income and the judgment of the court. The major part of the costs for the hospitalisation will directly be paid by health insurance (mutuelle/ziekenfonds). The remaining costs will need to be covered by yourself/family.

5. Guardianship

If you are living in Belgium and the Belgian health authorities decide you are unable to care for yourself due to poor health, they may appoint a legal guardian (Bewindvoerder/Administrateur) to look after your interests. The justice of the peace (Vrederechter/Juge de Paix) will usually try to appoint someone close to you, a spouse or other family member. If this is not possible, they will appoint a qualified professional.

6. Returning to the UK

If you are abroad and need help to return to the UK, the FCDO can try to assist in making plans for your return. This could involve contact with family or friends, social services, NHS teams and/or charities and NGOs.

If you have been away from the UK for an extended period, or if you have never lived in the UK, you may not be automatically entitled to state benefits, a pension, free NHS hospital treatment or assistance with higher education fees. To be eligible, a British national must meet certain residence requirements and/or make the appropriate national insurance contributions. This includes the habitual residence test. You can find more information on gov.uk on benefits and services, employment, tax and education. You can get free, independent advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Hospital repatriation is possible in many cases and costs will normally be covered by travel Insurance or personal funds.

7. Your data protection and the FCDO

The Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR control how personal information is used by organisations, businesses or the government. The FCDO’s privacy notice for consular services sets out how British Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates overseas process personal data. The notice explains how the FCDO uses personal data, and your rights in relation to our use of your personal data. The FCDO cannot overrule someone’s wishes unless a person is supposed to lack capacity. This may mean that the FCDO is not be able to share information about someone, unless they agree to do so.

8. Further UK information

FCDO Mental health and traveling abroad

NHS Mental Health and Travel

International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers

9. Support from local agencies and organisations

9.1 Hospitals with a 24hr psychiatrist on call

In an emergency where you require immediate access to psychiatric help and the below hospitals have a 24-hour psychiatrist on call (psychiatre de garde/psychiater met wachtdienst). You can walk in to any of these hospitals, or you can call 112 for an ambulance.

Erasmus hospital

Route de Lennik 808

1070 Anderlecht

Erasmus hospital website

Clinique St Jean – Botanique

Blvd du Jardin Botanique 32

1000 Brussels

Clinique St Jean – Botanique website

Clinique St Jean – Meridien

Rue du Meridien 1000

1210 SAINT-JOSSE

Clinique St Jean – Méridien website

PHU St Pierre

Rue Haute 322

1000 Brussels

CHU St Pierre website

UZ Leuven

Campus Gasthuisberg

Herestraat 49

3000 Leuven

UZ Leuven website

CHU St Luc

Avenue Hippocrate 10

12OO Woluwe Saint Lambert

CHU St Luc website

UZ Antwerp

Drie Eikenstraat 655

2650 Edegem

UZ Antwerp website

UZ Gent

C. Heymanslaan 10

9000 Gent

UZ Gent website

9.2 Local charities

Some of the following websites are in English, but for those that aren’t English is encountered widely spoken in Belgium and you will somebody who will be able to help.

CHS Community Health Service The non-profit Community Help Service (CHS) provides emotional and practical support to the many different expatriate communities in Belgium who find it easier to use English.

Similes volunteer organization supporting families and friends of people suffering from psychotic problems, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Psychosegevoelig Support for sufferers of psychosis. Platform provided by Janssen pharmaceutical company.

Ups & Downs Self-help organization for people suffering from bipolar disorder and chronic depression.

ten. Disclaimer

The information contained in this note is intended for your general guidance only, it is not a substitute for obtaining your own medical and legal advice. While all due care has been taken in compiling this information, accuracy cannot be guaranteed and the applicable law and procedures may occasionally change. For reasons neither of these Her Majesty’s Government nor any member of the British Consular staff can accept liability for any costs, damages or expenses which might be incurred. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office holds and uses data for purposes notified to the Information Commissioner under the Data Protection Act 1998 (which may be viewed at www.ico.org.uk). Such personal data may be disclosed to other UK Government Departments and public authorities.

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