According to the World Health Organization, almost 50% of the world’s population has mental health problems. Data collected by the Polish police indicates that more people die from suicides than traffic accidents. Stigma around discussing mental health problems and suicide have a great impact on individuals’ self-esteem, relationships, and ability to function within society. Simultaneously, many people complain about the lack of support or are afraid to reach out for help. The idea to address these problems crystalized during the 2019 Humanity in Action Poland Fellowship when three fellows Marcelina Rosińska, Mara Franke, and Krystal McLeod conceptualized the Mental Health Buddies Network. A few months later, Marcelina, a Poland-based lawyer, founded Mental Health Buddies Network as her Action Project.
Today, Mental Health Buddies has become a widely recognized and award-winning grass-roots project. Its core objective is to ensure that every person struggling with a mental health problem – i.e. anyone who has ever felt isolated, misunderstood, or stigmatized – receives the necessary support. In essence, young people support other young people. A group of university student volunteers act as friends-mentors. In this role, they encourage their fellow students to visit psychologists. They also check in regularly with these peers, making themselves available to support them in everyday difficulties and responsibilities pertaining to university life. As Marcelina emphasizes, “The purpose of the Network is not to provide professional assistance but to offer basic support to its members free-of-charge. Specialist assistance belongs to professionals. We create an additional support network.”
Due to a high and steadily increasing demand, Mental Health Buddies has grown to 70 friends-mentors and several dozen “mentees” from Polish villages, towns, and cities. The program continues to expand during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Long term, the project team aims to minimize the stigmatization of people with mental health issues as well as individuals in difficult life situations that affect their well-being.
The project offers a series of trainings conducted by professionals (including psychologists, educators, and lawyers) on how to communicate with people struggling with mental health difficulties. These trainings explore effective methods of support.
As part of the project, Mental Health Buddies Network also utilizes social media to raise awareness of the importance of language in interpersonal relationships. Social media campaigns focus on showing the harmful side of inefficient attempts to provide support to a person who is facing various types of difficulties. The project team critiques specific, real-world examples of messages, such as “you are not depressed, you’re just lazy”, to emphasize how certain responses actually worsen a recipient’s mental state. Both the training and the campaign initiatives teach how individuals can conduct appropriate and supportive conversations with individuals impacted by mental health challenges. The goal is that friends-mentors who go through these trainings will then apply them to their own lives and networks.
Mental Health Buddies Network cooperates with various institutions and organizations including Poznań Science and Technology Park, The Adam Mickiewicz University Foundation, Students’ Council of Adam Mickiewicz University (as part of the competition for student initiatives Kowadło 2.0).
Humanity in Action Poland continues to support the Mental Health Buddies Network, most recently through a 2020 Action Project financial grant.
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Article in Tygodnik Polityka (in Polish)
Article about student initatives Kowadło 2.0 (in Polish)
Article in dlastudenta.pl (in Polish)
Article in Sukces Po Poznańsku (in Polish)
Interview in Radio Meteor (in Polish)
Article in Flesz (in Polish)