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Mobilizing awareness through advocacy: Brianna Jackson

Brianna Jackson recently completed a bachelor’s degree in science in Nursing at Western University and is pursuing a master of science in Nursing at Western University in the Fall. Jackson applied for the Global MINDS Summer Institute to build on her previous experiences in global advocacy work in Tanzania by continuing to improve the wellbeing of vulnerable communities in Kenya.

Jackson discusses how her experiences at the Global MINDS Summer Institute profoundly shaped her passion for social innovation and global mental health initiatives and instilled in her the importance of listening to the insights of community members.

What is your education background and year of study? If applicable, what other degrees do you hold and where did you complete them?
I just completed my BSc in Nursing at Western University and will be continuing my studies here in the Fall, pursuing an MSc in Nursing. I have a passion for paediatric mental health and am looking forward to conducting phenomenological research exploring the topic of trauma and resilience among the paediatric population, so as to inform future therapeutic ideology and treatment interventions that more closely align with the values and needs of this age demographic.

Why did you pursue this opportunity with the Global MINDS Summer Institute? What about this international development project caught your attention?
In 2012, I was fortunate to spend time volunteering in Moshi, Tanzania, where I assisted locals in building an elementary school and cared for young children at a community orphanage. While this was my first opportunity to engage in international outreach, this experience served to ignite my passion for intercultural learning and global citizenship. When I first heard about the Global MINDS Summer Institute, I felt the initiative perfectly synthesized my passion for social advocacy and service to vulnerable populations, respect for diversity and intercultural collaboration, dedication to lifelong learning and scholarship and my commitment to the betterment of mental health care.

What experiences (professional or personal) do you have related to working with mental health that you believe assisted you in your time spent with the Global MINDS Summer Institute?  
My time spent at Western University studying Nursing has provided me with a meaningful foundation in holistic health assessment and patient centered care that I hope will serve to inform and enhance my role as a health care practitioner specializing in paediatric mental health. I recently consolidated my degree with an integrative practicum placement on the Adolescent Psychiatry Unit at Parkwood Hospital in London. This opportunity has provided me with incredible insight into the stabilization and treatment of mental health, and has only intensified my passion for this field of study. Beyond the classroom, I consistently seek opportunities for personal growth and professional development, having attended workshops and seminars with the RNAO Mental Health Nursing Interest Group and the Crisis and Trauma Resource Institute, as well as conferences, including the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Annual Conference at Western University, the McMaster Children’s Hospital Child Life Symposium and the Healthy Minds Bright Futures Mental Health Conference. Additionally, I have obtained relevant certifications, such as Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) and Mental Health First Aid Training, and have acquired diplomas in both Mental Health Studies and Nursing Leadership and Care Management from the United States Army Medical Training Centre. Most recently, I was hired by Jack.org as a public speaker, allowing me to engage young people across the province in conversations about mental health. The education I’ve received definitely helped me to make the most of my experience with Global MINDS.

Why is mental health important to you? What intrigues you about it?
The study of mental health and well-being is something I have been interested in for as long as I can remember. As a child, I was a victim of prolonged abuse, leading to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. The support of others has played an instrumental role in my personal recovery and has given me great strength and appreciation for life. As a result, I continuously strive to positively impact those faced with hardship, vulnerability and uncertainty as a way of paying forward the kindness I have received. Through persistent inquiry, advocacy and public service I hope to affect systemic change that will enhance the lived experience of individuals with chronic mental health challenges.

This project uses a transdisciplinary approach to mental health and brings together students from a wide-range of academic specialities and backgrounds. What lessons/insight do you feel that you learned from the other Western University students participating in the Global MINDS Summer Institute?
As a nursing student, we have consistently been taught about the importance of adopting a transdisciplinary approach to patient care. Despite several clinical placements and jobs that have required me to work with people representing various fields of expertise, however, Global MINDS was the first experience in which I honestly felt as though the strengths of all parties were fully recognized and valued. It was incredibly eye opening and invigorating to witness the growing excitement as ideas were generated and built upon by all–the energy in the room was so often palpable. Each perspective shared offered a unique wisdom that had not previously been considered. Given that the problems being tackled were so complex, it was not uncommon for each person to express an entirely different opinion. This really challenged everyone to critically evaluate the information presented–to view the issue from every vantage point, and assess potential solutions for the breadth and depth of their impact.

Reflecting on your experience with the Global MINDS Summer Institute, what is the greatest thing you believe you accomplished while in Kenya?
When I consider my own group and our accomplishments since coming together a short month ago, I cannot help but smile. As I reviewed and consolidated our written report just last week, it dawned on me how far we’ve come together. From our initial meetings with community partners, to collective brainstorming, delivering our final pitch to key stakeholders and now planning for the implementation of our solution throughout the year ahead, we have truly become what I now know to be a high-functioning team. I have the utmost respect and admiration for this strong group of women and am delighted to be embarking upon such a transformative journey with them. Together, we will have so many milestones to cross and so many achievements to celebrate. What we have created together is definitely what I consider to be our greatest accomplishment.

What is the most exciting activity/event you completed with the Global MINDS Summer institute?
While I suppose it’s not a specific activity or event. What I found most exciting were candid conversations with locals. Throughout our many site visits, excursions and team interviews, I was deeply humbled by my interactions with the people of Machakos. Specifically, hearing the voices of community members who expressed a strong willingness to help those living with psychosocial disability gave me hope for a brighter future. In response to hearing about the challenges faced by individuals experiencing mental illness and sharing our vision of safe spaces facilitated by a network of mental health champions and awareness ambassadors, we heard such powerful statements as: “we are our brothers ‘and sisters’ keepers”; “if they receive support, they could be like us”; “join together and mobilize community members”; “it is God’s will for us to be kind to one another” and “we will come”.  Meeting the people of Machakos helped me to remember the limitless power and potential of the human spirit–that despite unfortunate circumstances, we can achieve the impossible through love, compassion and determination.

Now that you are back home, what do you feel you learned? Was there anything you encountered that you weren’t expecting?
Honestly, the greatest challenge I’ve faced since returning home is trying to explain the nature of the experience to others. I applied for the opportunity with the hope and expectation that I may make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate than myself; however, I am now certain that this experience has had a far more profound and lasting impact upon my own life. Through this initiative I have discovered a greater strength and potential in myself. I was reminded to approach life with patience, gratitude and love–not only for others, but for myself as well. I hope that this personal growth may allow me to make a profound and lasting contribution that will shape the future of mental health care both locally and globally.  

How do you think this project will influence your “next steps”? (EX: Do you think it will steer you in a specific direction academically, professionally, etc.?)
Global MINDS has ignited in me a passion for social innovation that I never could have anticipated. I was taught to think disruptively–to approach challenges with zest and vigour and to not take no for an answer. While I have a BSc in Nursing, I no longer feel limited in my vocational endeavours. I suddenly see myself exploring avenues within the nursing discipline other than frontline care. The worlds of academia and social justice seem to be calling my name and I am excited for the possibilities my future holds.

How do you plan to use the information learned on this trip in your academic studies?
At this point, I don’t know exactly what will come of my experience in Kenya, but I have definitely learned not to place limitations upon others or myself. My time spent with the many accomplished students and faculty mentors at the Institute helped me to realize that when great minds band together, we are truly capable of anything. To summarize the Summer Institute, I come back to the word ubuntu, which I learned when volunteering in Tanzania 6 years ago.  The Swahili word, meaning “I am because we are,” embodies everything I feel when I think of this experience. We are all truly interconnected, and the relationships we have nurtured are truly miraculous. I am the sum of everyone I have met along this journey, and will always carry a piece of Global MINDS close to my heart.