Psychiatrist Prof. Willem Nolen is retiring after a career spanning forty years. On Thursday 14 February 2013, at the end of an international symposium on mood disorders organized to mark his retirement, he was appointed Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau. Peter Rehwinkel, Mayor of Groningen, bestowed the decoration.
Over the past few decades, Nolen’s work has had a huge national impact on the way people with depression and bipolar disorders are diagnosed and treated. He spent many years helping to update the DSM, the official diagnostic guide to psychiatric disorders. In his capacity as a researcher, he studied the effects of medication. Although some of his research was carried out in close cooperation with the pharmaceutical industry, he has also explored problems in which the industry has little or no interest. His research into the early detection of bipolar disorder focused specifically on the role of biological factors, such as immunology and development of the brain.
In 2004, Nolen took a post as Professor of Emotional Disorders in Groningen. As head of treatment affairs in the Emotional Disorders department, he invested his expertise and empathy in helping patients. He was one of the first psychiatrists to recognize the importance of adequate patient information, and in 1990, he wrote the very first informative book about psychiatric disorders aimed at the general public. Since then, he has played an active part in devising countless patient information leaflets with the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Psychiatrie or NVvP (Netherlands Psychiatric Association).
In his work as a member of the NVvP’s Commissie Hulp bij Zelfdoding (Committee for Help with Assisted Suicide), he was a key figure in developing guidelines for psychiatrists dealing with requests for assisted suicide from psychiatric patients. In addition to all these activities, he also made time to speak personally to patients asking for euthanasia on account of unbearable suffering. He helped those treating patients to use any remaining options to help them cope with life, and to assess the criteria for assisted suicide.
Nolen was – and still is – also actively involved in numerous groups and associations. He was one of the founders of the Vereniging Manisch Depressieven en Betrokkenen (an association for people suffering from and involved with manic depression). After active membership lasting 25 years, last year he was made an honorary member. Nolen initiated the Kenniscentrum Bipolaire Stoornissen (Knowledge Centre for Bipolar Disorders) and the stichting Bevordering Klinisch Onderzoek in de Psychiatrie (foundation to promote clinical research in psychiatry). In 2012, he was invited to take up the prestigious position of President of the International Society of Bipolar Disorders, an appointment that he intends to continue into his retirement.
In a farewell symposium focusing on mood disorders, Nolen’s close Dutch and international colleagues joined him in contemplating the question ‘how far have we come in 2013 and what are the prospects?’, a subject in which scientific advances go hand in hand with clinical practices.
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