A year on the highway to mental health
One year has already passed from a very ambitious project that we at Hugarafl are working on, together with other peers and mental health professionals from Spain, Romania and Poland. As we are reaching this important milestone, we are taking a glance back at what we have created and gained, in what we call the Highway to Mental Health.
We started simple, by agreeing that building the emotional resilience of young people is a goal important enough for all of us, to dedicate it two years and many working hours. And so we embarked on this project in September 2019. Defining what emotional resilience means, in a way that reflected the views of everyone in our international team, whether they are a person with lived experience of mental health challenges or a mental health professional, or both, turned out to be the more challenging and equally enriching step. We spent days in our meetings in Romania and Poland bringing forth our experiences and beliefs, as well as our knowledge from our work, about concepts that this project revolves around, like resilience, mental health, peer support. We agreed and we disagreed. But we always listened to each other. And we always respected each other´s views. That is because one of the main reason we chose to go beyond the realities of our own organizations and to be in this together, is that we strongly believe in learning from each other, in grasping that precious and unique philosophy that our experiences, studies and cultures shaped into each of us. And to find that common thread than can transcend those respective experiences, studies and cultures and our roles as professionals and peers, and tie us together in a solidary effort to improve mental health.
We could settle for nothing less than defining resilience as the personal, communal and societal capacity to cope with life and adversity. So the work in this project is guided by the understanding that resilience is more than an attribute that a person has or doesn´t have, as it is often misunderstood in our society, thus placing the entire responsibility on the person and the pressure to be strong in front of everything that life and the others throw at them. Rather, there is always a social and a community dimension to resilience, like a soil for a plant, the effect of which can range between supporting its development and being hostile to it. Our families, our social circles, the communities in which we live and the institutions that are meant to serve our interests are part of this environment that has an immense role in how resilient a person turns out to be in a given situation. And at the same time, resilience is something that can be build, it is a flexible set of qualities that the person can have a positive impact on, by investing effort in their social relations, by accessing the opportunities for support that are available in their community or by constantly learning what works best for them in handling their emotions, needs, goals.
Resulting from this complex understanding, was a variety of topics that we see as relevant points for building emotional resilience:
- emotions (how to understand, integrate and express them),
- authenticity (personal expression, expressing needs, finding purpose and places of belonging),
- compassion (for self and others),
- lifestyle (finding one´s own personal path, ways for sustenance, self-help tools and definition of success),
- empowerment (through assertiveness, self-determination, knowing one´s personal strengths, human rights and increased self-efficacy),
- nature (benefits and ways to connect with it),
- social relationships development (through vulnerability, empathy, trust, love),
- comunity (togetherness, sharing responsibility for inclusion, personal impact, trans-generational support, peer support, integrating gender perspective).
In this point in the project, we have finished the first intellectual outcome, the Handbook of non-formal methods on emotional resilience, which includes group activities for young people aged 18-25 on all of the above mentioned topics. The handbook will be made public at the end of this year and people working with youth, in Iceland and all around Europe, will have the chance to use it in their activity. Furthermore, 7 Hugarafl members will participate next year in two international training courses alongside Spanish, Romanian and Polish fellows, to get in-depth knowledge about emotional resilience, working with groups with non-formal methods and using the activities in the handbook.
The Icelandic project team, consisting of five members of Hugarafl, is currently working on the second intellectual product, an Online course on emotional resilience. The same topics will be addressed in this online course, but this time they will be designed for young people to individually explore them through videos, exercises and reflection questions.
In the meantime, our cooperation has moved mostly online and we don´t get to meet our partners from abroad face to face anymore, due to the restrictions caused by the pandemic. This time and these circumstances entail various struggles that put to test our own resilience. But the threads that connect us are still held tightly through our commitment to the project, by the conviction that this work is more important than ever and by the human ties we have already build.
Written by Dumitrița Simion