On 24 January 2019 Claudia represented the young leaders group of the Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health at the launch event of its Report in Lisbon, Portugal. She shares her experience below.
“It was a truly amazing experience. I met people from all walks of life and found that we all have one thing in common; we live to advocate for mental health on behalf of young people in our communities.”
Connecting through language
I was so excited to present in my native language, Portuguese. To give you some context; my parents were born in Portugal and I was born in South Africa but I hold dual citizenship. I hoped that presenting in Portuguese rather than language English would penetrate through the language barrier that prevents optimal healthcare and distribution of information. Whether you are a psychiatrist or a mental health ambassador, your relationship with your patient and the community alike is affected by language barriers. After my presentation I saw a post on Instagram celebrating the Portuguese presentation and welcoming us, the “#MyMindOurHumanity” campaign, to Lisbon. I reached people who are directly affected by mental health thanks to my additional language skill.
I started by thinking back to my childhood, which gained the audience’s attention almost immediately.
“I am motivated daily by the memory of a young girl who lived with anxiety and was written off to remedial school. She experienced difficulties with concentration and focus. She was misunderstood and alone. Her school career started off at a slower pace but this did not stop her from persevering and studying further to obtain her law degree. Today she is a non-practicing attorney and a psychology graduate and mental health ambassador. Years later she was diagnosed with Bipolar”.
“Today, that little girl stands before you, hoping that no other child will go through what she did. People of all ages need hope. Hope for a better life, hope for a sustainable future, hope for better diagnosis and support. Without hope there is no future”.
Our youth led group is comprised of 15 individuals from across the world who have joined forces to bring to life the findings of the Lancet Commission’s report. It is our aim to disseminate these findings to youth so that they may make use of it to combat the stigma associated with mental health. Our group is running a campaign called “My mind, our humanity” and it has three main objectives.
- * Promote the view that mental health is a part of being human.
- * Integrate the voices and experiences of young people into public debate.
- * Educate and inspire young people to act to promote well-being in our communities.
We are working together to achieve these objectives by creating how-to-guides for developing peer support groups and student support. This received great acknowledgement from the audience. In fact, after my presentation, I was approached by the likes of a mental health nurse, a psychiatrist, a peer support group facilitator, all showing interest in working towards achieving the same objective.
I reiterated that we don’t often find an organisation like the Lancet Commission, whose aim is to combat the stigma associated with mental health, and protect and serve on behalf of persons living with mental health conditions, particularly children and young people.
Why youth? Why young children? The answer is quite simple really- early intervention is key!
My Mind Our Humanity believes that mental health should be included in school programmes. We became involved in the Lancet Campaign to work towards mental health ambassadors, like ourselves, people with lived experience and practitioners actively participating in policy making and decisions regarding mental health services.
I participate in public speaking sharing my personal experience with Bipolar 2 disorder to represent individuals with lived experience. I was diagnosed in 2015 and since my diagnosis I have participated in advocacy for mental health. Lived experience gives me the ability to understand how persons with a mental health condition feel and how they must fight each day just to get up and go to bed. I truly believe that I was meant to go through such a difficult time to better help improve the lives of others and really make a difference in the world.
After being diagnosed with Bipolar, I went on to study Psychology and I am a volunteer counsellor at a leading non-government Organisation, and am currently in the process of registering as a wellness counsellor with the Association for Supportive Counsellors and Holistic Practitioners.
Before I end and on behalf of the Young Leader’s Group of the Lancet Commission, a big thank you to all partners and stakeholders for their continued collaboration with us in our quest to improve mental health across the globe. Furthermore, a special thank you to the Welcome Trust and the Lisbon Institute for Global Mental Health for giving us the opportunity to have represented in Lisbon.