Really grateful to our core Professional Advisory Group, with their tested, global clinical and academic expertise (Kirsi in Europe/Middle East, Seyda in Turkey and beyond, Amilton in Brazil, Steve and Pallab crossing Europe and India).
But the overall thinking was captured by John, with his journalism and media experience, and vision for the Doc and Media Centre (e.g. watch the Parallel Lives programme on Social Justice at: https://doc-media-centre.org/). John’s constant cross-over with other fields makes it much more exciting than the traditional stilted mental health initiatives or overwhelmingly brief and loud mainstream media – for example, watch out for our Parallel Lives programme through photos and drawings across four countries on World Photography Day on 19th August!
Which can go nowhere without evolving technological expertise, and where Hussain and his entrepreneurial business track record in Pakistan comes in. The challenge is to get them interested, involved and crossing over to our Youth Advisory Board without killer agendas and minutes. Thank you all for now!
It took a long time to consider the obvious, but working with a historian (Clare) helped us think out of the box. And, although we may want to keep some secrets on the methods in-house, the essence was that grandparents and other elders (extended family or relatives) from five countries had their own say on their early experiences, narratives and solutions in our global children’s vision project.
What surprised me was that children loved this part of the research, because there was something new for them to discover, and add to their coping portfolio. In Brazil, children thus got a stronger sense of family continuity and identity from their elders, and pondered that resilience was not reliant on material comforts. In Pakistan (photos), elders reminisced on constantly struggling with poverty, an incredibly high number of losing their own parents at a young age, and (literally) crossing rivers to go to school.
Thank you all, you brought a sense of humility and perspective to all of us, wherever we are heading next.
Carrying on with the major WACIT rebuilding theme. After Hafza and Amina, we now welcome Elmas, Aron, Zeenat, Vivian and Lucia (to join shortly). They may be young but already weathered peer researchers from two multi-country projects.
The question is more about how they can stamp their mark on the identity and direction of the programme? Otherwise, why involve young people in the first place – just to tick a box for funding bodies?
The answers may well lie in Vivian’s powerful quote on the staff profile (https://www.wacit.org/about-wacit): “Throughout these different experiences I have found a deep gratitude, one that deconstructs who we thought we were and brings back to life who we really want to be in this world.“
This is the next challenge for WACIT, if its work is to really evolve, i.e. to let the Youth Advisory Board deconstruct and reshape it as much as they need to. For the rest of us, there is a parallel with the moto of a particular music festival that we miss so much – “make WACIT what you really want it to be, even for a short time, this might be enough to make an impact”.
Family, Friends and Faith were prominent and consistent among children’s drawings. They are going to vary with age and context, but relational supports, connections and faith were certainly prominent among this group.
This is a consistent finding with our previous studies on the inter-linkage between internal/individual and external relational supports, e.g. religious coping strategies and religious practice, or coping through activities and friendships. What was so interesting here though was that the importance of informal social supports was not negated that much for children by lockdown and its restrictions – which, early impressions indicate, may not be the case for adults.
Most people may suggest that one should not open their house during decoration and rebuilding, instead wait for its nice ‘front’ room to be ready. But such a house may be less real and open to visitors and friends making their mark? Another way, while we are rebuilding the whole WACIT structures, is to introduce those special and generous people while they join:
The Global Partners so far – Sajida, Juliana and Elijah – have been the lyncphin for many years. So have the academic advisers – Amilton with his musical talents and Seyda (with more to follow from different fields of life).
And it is those different fields of life, approach and experience that drive this change. We would not have got here without Sarah at the heart of it, and her unique combination of business and public health skills. Renovation is neither innovative nor genuine without youth energy and ideas – where Hafzah (in particular her leadership in focusing more on gender inequalities) and Amina (photo) as the first member of our Youth Advisory Board, come in.
Maybe renovation should never end – the day it does, we should quit!
…especially when one does not understand the language! Which is exactly we opted for a combination of diaries entries through text and drawings, ‘draw and tell’ during the focus groups, tasks in the community, and traditional verbal interactions.
Both children and young people kicked off in style in Turkey. They loved their packs and made great use of them. One can tell the COVID-19 impact on restrictions like social distancing, coping, tenacity, and postive outlook. Let’s wait for the rest, but huge thanks so far.
We did not want to make any assumptions, just wanted to find out what children in 5 Majority World Countries consider as realities, how they are coping and, crucially, how we should all prepare for next phase to the unknown. Online lessons givens now (at least for those who can access them). Masks are an extension of our bodies, but this did not seem to stop them from enjoying their danse classes. In typical Brazil mode, there was no way their beloved carnival would stay out of their diaries – a mask of a completely different kind.
Only a snippet of our large dataset (and not withstanding the fears and distress that are undoubtedly there), but the diaries, drawings and focus group discussions that followed seemed more measured, planned and processed than those of many adults that seemed to be shaped by urgency and impatience on the next deadline.
Here, both the countries (10 along the global spectrum) and the context (measuring direct and indirect trauma exposure) were really broad, hence the findings more meaningful. It was a huge concern (although not that surprising) that youth all over the world reported high rates of trauma exposure, with indirect confrontation from traumatic news and witnessing violence coming top of the list. It was not surprising either that these predicted PTSD symptoms across cultures.
The mediation by youth ratings of external locus of control (i.e. locating power of control over life events to external factors) gives ground for hope though. There is evidence that maldaptive external control cognitions can be modified through psychological interventions:
Nothing will ever be the same again, maybe some for the better. If we can judge the messages from children’s diaries, drawings, testimoninals and group posters from five majority world countries, the initial fear and panic are gradually giving way to anticipation and resilience-building.
Starting from coping strategies described by children in Pakistan, these seem to reflect the latter/recent phase of the pandemic, with some acceptance of the uncertainty, whilst turning inwards, and to friends and family, wahtever the external circumstances. As in previous pre-pandemic studies, there is little or no reference (in any of the five countries) on reliance on structural services.
But it was their group poster on the future that caught my eye. The key messages were “be prepared, remain self-aware, and stay connected”.
Among several exciting outcomes of this global project, and whilst reading again our youth advisers’ blogs, the word ‘openness’ stands out. So commonly used that it has lost its meaning. Mental health professionals are often no exception. We can re-discover the real meaning of the word from the brave and honest accounts of young people processing their lived experiences to the benefits of others. There are other key messages, for example how to reconcile such openness with societal traditional values – the concensus being that sharing across an increasingly smaller global community helps breaking barriers.
A lot more to ponder – with no empirical evidence in youth mental health as yet, despite the increasing popularity of the following roles – i.e. on how to unleash this unique knowledge and energy through peer educators or mentors, youth advisers, and peer researchers? All roles carry distinct advantages, but are still often blurred by services and researchers.