Mental health, a topic that is extremely relevant in today’s fast paced world but seldom talked about. It is one that is still often stigmatised and considered not an actual disease. AEGEE decided to acknowledge the elephant in the room and proposed it as a possible working group at the Strategic Planning Meeting held in June 2019 in Köln. Having been accepted by the Agora at Salerno, it is now one of the four new thematic focus areas of AEGEE. Laura Miranda from AEGEE Valencia, a passionate voice in the field mental health with several years of volunteering experience in and outside AEGEE, submitted her candidature as the coordinator of this working group. We interviewed her to get a better insight behind her motivation and her plans for the term of the working group.
Hi Laura, thank you for taking the time for this interview. To start off, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Sure, where to start? I was born in the Basque Country in Spain, in 1994, and when I was 9 years old my parents decided to move to Valencia, a city to which I feel I belong. I started Industrial Engineering in 2012 because I didn’t know what to do with my life and my parents pushed me to go to the Polytechnic University because of its good fame. I turned out to be an activist more than an engineer and I plan to study Psychology in the near future. I love art in all its forms, now I’m starting to paint with watercolour and play the ukulele, and I live with my cat, called Gordo (fat cat in English, yes, he’s fat).
You gained experience through training sessions and volunteering in and outside AEGEE. What are some important takeaways?
I learned a lot. If I had to point out some, I would say that now I’m more aware of what I’m capable of, I gained self-confidence in the process. I also developed many management skills, I am more organised in my studies and my volunteer work. I manage my time better and also my emotions, especially frustration. This was a very important learning point for me, as I’m a perfectionist and my expectations used to be over the reality, now I learned to minimise them and keep on with the unexpected, embracing ambiguity. For this, I like the motto: be stubborn about your goals but flexible about your methods.
As you mentioned in your application, mental health is a topic close to you. In what way can you leverage your knowledge and experiences towards the working group?
This topic has always interested me somehow, but it became very relevant in my life when I was diagnosed with my depression. I had to explain my situation to my friends and colleges, and that wasn’t always easy. So I started to look for extra information and resources accessible to everybody to share with them so they could understand me better. The more I found the more interested I was, and now, years later, I have a good collection of resources and information and a better understanding of its complexity. In the working group, I can share these resources and clarify any confusion that might pop-up, and I have different reliable sources where we can also look for answers. All of these materials can be used as a base to create new ones for the Network, to develop workshops or just as learning tools to share with anyone that asks for them.
You mentioned a very elaborate program. What’s the first thing you’d like to tackle should you be elected to the position?
The first thing for me in any WG or project is to create a team, getting to know each other, doing team building activities and establishing a supportive network within the group, taking care of our own mental health. Then it’s important to understand the interests and preferences of each one of the group members and then distribute the tasks based on this. At that point, we will know our ‘resources’ and we will develop our Action Plan based on that. Within my priorities are to make a good social media strategy to raise awareness and fight the stigma, and I would also like to start making a survey to the network on their wellbeing within the association, so we can have a picture in our minds of the current situation of AEGEEans mental health. But we’ll see after the group is completely formed, I can’t make any promises.
The current situation with COVID-19 poses challenges with mental health, often with people stuck at home with people that act as triggers. How would you or the working group tackle this situation?
First I have to say that we’re neither therapists nor social workers, so in any case, we should interfere, the only thing we can do is to express our opinion on what can be done. Answering the question, this is a very common situation, and every case is different. If you’re talking about a bad relationship with your flatmates in a student shared flat, the solution would be to talk about the rules of living together. But this changes if we’re talking about violent situations. If a woman is trapped with her perpetrator, then it should be reported and the police should intervene. If the case is about an LGBTQ+ teenager/young person living with homophobic/transphobic parents, the best we can do is to try to support this person via online, phone or video call to make that person see that is not alone and connecting them to LGBTQ+ associations. In some cases, it might help to directly talk with the people you’re living with, express your emotions and possible solutions, but sometimes this can unleash violent reactions and make the situation worse. It’s very important to analyse the situation first with an expert on Social Work.
What would be your plan in the chance that you aren’t elected?
I would for sure apply to join the WG as a member.