One of the messages Phillip keeps giving us is that we can’t just earn our degrees and hang out diplomas on the wall. Engagement with the communities we work with is the only way to earn their trust. And without this sense of trust, we have no hope of being effective clinicians. His advice is one of the most profound lessons I will take with me from this trip. It is intimidating to step outside your comfort zone and engage with people that are different than you. But what I have learned here is that when I take that leap, the rewards are priceless. By opening myself up to people, and simply listening to their experiences I have been able to learn more about trauma and conflict than I could from any book. What Phillip didn’t add is that by reaching out to a community and working to gain their trust we can also learn about their ethos and how they make meaning in the world. I am hopeful that I will be able to carry this message with me as I work to become a compassionate and competent clinician. I would like to thank Dr.s Galezewski and Ideran, my colleagues and PIPs for their encouragement and support throughout this process. It is has been an unforgettable experience I will remember the rest of my life. Bon voyage!
The city of Derry represents both the healing and conflict that continues to face the people of Northern Ireland. The city has been named the cultural city of Northern Ireland, and as a result has seen an influx of funding for new shops and the maintenance of tourist attractions. It has grown into a bustling city with people shopping and enjoying their city center. These new editions reflect the deep desire most people have to rebuild a peaceful society. But the continued presence of dissident paramilitary organizations reminds me that there is still a long way to go. The community remains segregated with Protestants living on the Waterside and Catholics on the Bogside. The very different narratives both communities are clearly laid out in murals and monuments.
While there has been a progression toward peace, conflict still lingers in the background. The violence that continues to be perpetrated fuels alienation between communities making it impossible for them to move forward in peace building. As we walked around Derry I felt alternatively peaceful and tense and I can only imagine that the citizens experience this on a magnified level. I am left wondering how peacebuilding can truly take root when communities struggle to accept each other’s narratives.
After visiting with two families that have lost loved ones to suicide I am struck by their both their resiliency and their continuing sorrow. A common thread has been that people are determined to create something positive out of tragedy. Families are determined to make changes in the mental health services available as well as to change the culture of silence that surrounded mental health for so long. Despite this incredible resiliency their sadness is palpable at the very same time. One survivor I spoke with lost three family members to suicide over a thirty year period. As he spoke of his oldest brother’s suicide he broke into tears. He made it clear that the completed suicide of a family member isn’t something that you get over, but it can be something you learn to live with. And if you can, try to take your experience and pain to make an impact on your community by saving lives. I can only hope that if I lost a loved one to suicide I would be able to find the strength to honor my pain and use it to save the lives of others.
At this conference we were given the opportunity to listen to the experiences of mental health consumers and individuals affected by suicide. We heard stories about how the many ways the mental health system here as let people down when they are desperate for help. The speakers also went over a survey done by the Belfast Mental Health Rights Group. The survey pointed to the way that the A & E addresses mental health concerns and include patient’s in their treatment plans. Their report had a simple message, mental health consumers in Northern Ireland are being let down by healthcare professionals.
Toward the end of the conference, during the Q & A session, I asked the panel how we as future mental health professionals can support communities in their advocacies. Kathy, a mental health consumer, states very simply that all we need to do is listen. We ned to listen and understand that each person’s experience is unique and valid. If we do this simple task, we will be able to support individuals and communities in making effective changes in their mental health and healing.
Yesterday we spent an hour talking with Brid Keenan. She told us her story of growing up in a Republican family and how she made the journey to becoming a psychotherapist. Many of us choose this profession so that we can help others heal, but Brid’s decision to become a psychotherapist was a deliberate political action to affect the marginalization of Catholics during The Troubles. Her story highlights how mental health professionals not only be powerful enough to help people heal, but that we can also use our skills to impact larger systems around us and help build peace in societies.