Where have you been for the last few months, Linea?
I’ve been living in Geneva Switzerland.
What are you doing?
I’m interning for the Mental Health and Policy department at the World Health Organization Headquarters.
How did that happen?
I had been working for an amazing filmmaker, Delaney Ruston, on her upcoming film “Where in the World is Mental Health” (http://www.unlistedfilm.com/world.html) doing international mental health research when I came across the mental health policy page. On the bottom of the page was a short message saying that they accept interns, so I wrote the director an email, and after lots of hard work, here I am!
What prompted you to pursue international work?
I knew that there was a lot to be fixed in America, but I also knew there were a lot of capable hands working on it. This is not the case in developing countries. In fact, 85% of people with severe mental health conditions in developing countries are unable to get the support and treatment that they badly need. As I learned more and read the amazing WHO Mental Health and Development Report (http://www.who.int/mental_health/policy/mhtargeting/en/index.html ) I saw that the international development organizations were even missing this very vulnerable population. I wanted to know more about this topic, more about how people are helping, and more about what I can do in the future to help with their efforts.
How did you get involved in mental health advocacy in the first place?
I initially began doing mental health advocacy a few years after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. During the entire time I was dealing with the ups and downs of the illness and diagnosis (and the grief and the anger and the joy) I was writing. I eventually, through the help of my wonderful mother, realized that I should put my work together with hers to make a book. This book (which will come out in May from Saint Martin’s Press) began a larger journey that took me to classrooms, conferences, and beyond to share my experience. I was also lucky enough to find BringChange2Mind within the first few months of their childhood and began volunteering. This helped me become even more involved and helped me learn more about how to help others and how to fight stigma.
Who are a few people who have influenced you or mentored your journey?
My mom, of courseJ And my dad and sister. But also people like Delaney Ruston, Emily Smith, Nanci Schiman, Theresa Emerson, and all the volunteers at BringChange2Mind. Also, of course, Calen Pick and Jessie Close who are my heroes. Oh, and of course Glenn too! She’s amazing.
You are barely into adulthood and you have certainly had a lot of experiences with finishing college, getting a book published, working with mental health advocacy groups in the US and now working with the WHO. What do you do for fun?
I love reading, running, yoga and knitting. But of course I love hanging out with my friends whether we are talking about art, books, or health or anything really. I also love to play the piano, go to art galleries, and go to the ballet, symphony and opera.
You do have a rather serious health issue. What do you do to take care of yourself?
I do a lot of things to take care of myself. I think the most important thing I have, and I am very very lucky to have this, is a good stable support network. I also have to work hard when that network is busy or in a completely different country so I also see a counselor, meditate, run or do yoga, read, and take medication.
It is said that international travel changes people and helps them see things in a different way. What are a couple of things that you have learned while in Geneva and working with the WHO?
I have learned how much I love the health field and how fascinating it is! Especially at an international level. I have learned just how much I don’t know about the world and people in it. I realized that the most exciting thing for me to do is to meet someone from a new country and learn about them and their life. I have also been wondering about America, for instance, why don’t we use the metric system? Why is our international calling code “1”? And this one is for me, because many Americans don’t have this problem, but why don’t I know any other languages? I have tried three new languages now and none of them have stuck.
What question do you wish I would have asked you?
Do you know French yet? Answer: unfortunately, no. I live in a French speaking part of Switzerland, have a room bursting with French how-to books, French dictionaries, French graphic novels and French fiction and I have not had time to touch any of it! I don’t even remember how to say “this is my stop” on the bus!