An interest in both science and practice provided me with a perspective from which I could see that the field of mental health has a lack of essential communication between these two approaches to the same topic, which – in my opinion – cannot exist without one another. However, even science and practice combined are unable to do much if they don’t step away from their sheltered academic or therapeutic environment in society, and attempt to influence the broader social context without which little can be done when it comes to mental health
I thus decided to establish the PIN (Psychosocial Innovation Network) , as an organisation that gathers together people from practice and science who will, in unison, attempt to understand mental health problems and jointly influence the system. As a research associate at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade, and as the director of PIN, I had the opportunity to see how academic and practical currents can learn a great deal from one another.
The PIN is now six years old. It has implemented more than 40 projects that have, within their scope, provided support to more than 6,000 people. It has yielded the required scientific evidence for the development of psychological interventions, provided insights into the experiences of vulnerable groups, changed the practice of granting international protection through the introduction of psychological assessments, established national mental health mechanisms and an international Consortium (CoReMH) that’s focused on the mental health of refugees, and much more. It seems as though the trinity — of science, practice and advocacy — works well as a team.
I’ve been asked many times what led PIN to this where it is now, and here I don’t have much of a dilemma. It was primarily an agreement I reached with myself at the very outset: I will invest a lot of time engaging with PIN. If you aren’t prepared to do that when you launch something of your own, it will be tough for it to come to fruition, and even if it does, it will be tough for it to endure. Engagement includes an equal focus on the work – programmes and goals, but also on people – for that to be good for them, for the organisation to be able to provide a stimulating environment where people feel that they are advancing and that they are involved and questioned. If any of that doesn’t exist – people will leave. Another thing would be to carefully select the first team with members with whom you agree, first and foremost in terms of values, and which, like you, are ready to allocate a lot of time, whenever that’s necessary. And you should deploy all your strength to preserve this team, which is both your rechargeable battery and organisational strength.
The third piece of advice is to be prepared that the organisation and some of its members will grow faster or slower than you envisaged, yourself included. This will perhaps lead to a need to change structures within the organisation. And that will sometimes be difficult to accept, and will sometimes bring with it sadness, rage or fear. But flexibility and a willingness to revise settings, whatever that may mean, are key to an organisation being able to grow at its full capacity, organically, how and when the time is right for that.
And when crises emerge, and they always do, there is no retreat, switch to autopilot, or the notion that things will resolve themselves – they won’t. And if they aren’t resolved cracks will appear, which the team members will see even when you think they don’t, and enthusiasm, commitment and trust will seep through those cracks little by little. As such, when those crises emerge – remind yourself of that initial agreement you made with yourself – I will engage with it – and revise whether or not you’re ready for that. If you’re not – leave it to someone else, perhaps the organisation has outgrown you, and the goal is for that which you build to be able to live without you, but also without any other member. And if you are ready – call together the team and throw yourself into the work, regardless of how difficult that might sometimes be and how it might require you to leave your comfort zone. Do that for the sake of the organisation, the team, yourself, and first and foremost for the mission you’re fighting to fulfil.