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Spotlight on WHO’s interns

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Having a clinical background while currently undertaking an internship at the team of Mental Health Policy and Service Development at the WHO; I can undoubtedly conclude that this experience has expanded my perception and the way I view the pressing issues regarding global mental health. Although having no previous exposure to international public health, I do have experience of working with numerous patients suffering from mental illnesses, and as such, understand the seriousness and devastating impact of mental health disorders on a person.

WHO defines mental health as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to  make a contribution to her or his community. Mental health will therefore have implications not only on the individual but also on the household and the extended community.

By 2020, unipolar depressive disorders are estimated to be the most important cause of disability worldwide. As is often the case with ill health, it is the ones with least resources that get affected the most; of the estimated 24 million people with Schizophrenia worldwide, more than half do not receive adequate care, and 90% of those are in the low and middle income countries. As one can imagine from these shocking numbers, I could not have asked for a more interesting and significant department to conduct my internship in. However, interesting or not, it is important to note that the tasks laid out for an intern and the subject matters can vary greatly, especially since interning has become an industry of its own.

Generally speaking, the number of internship positions advertised these days is increasing. In large, the upsurge of college internships reflects shifts in the structure of the modern economy. As globalization and labor mobility between countries reduce the numbers of well-paying blue-collar jobs, new industries evolve, with professions requiring advanced college degrees. These changes can be seen in both Europe and North America. An analysis of the class of 2012 by the American National Association of Colleges and Employers found that a majority of the students had graduated with an internship experience, of which 47 percent were unpaid.

Since the internship positions at the WHO are unpaid, one must make the most out of them. Here, my WHO experience is a perfect example. As most meetings and seminars are open to everyone, including interns, these serve as excellent networking opportunities and enable extra-curricular indulgence in global health issues.

Furthermore, several times a week there are interns’ seminars being held by professionals working within WHO, sharing their knowledge and expertise with us. Not to forget, the multicultural and multilingual work environment will surely provide us with an advantage edge later in our professional careers.

Besides, in how many workplaces would you randomly bump in to the President of Portugal in the elevator? Yes, that did happen to me. Paid or unpaid, I am on the lucky end. As a citizen from a wealthy nation in Northern Europe I have been able to receive grants and scholarships to cover my stay in Geneva. Others are not as fortunate, especially potential interns from low and middle income countries.

Nevertheless, my specific area of work here is highly relevant and compensation enough. This is why I want to stress my team’s work within Mental health policy; when clearly conceptualized, health policies can co-ordinate necessary services and activities to ensure that treatment and care is delivered to those in need. This is why policies matter. Concrete and well-crafted policies enable the resources to be focused, and used in an efficient way, to benefit the ones needing it the most.

In order to facilitate and expedite this, we are putting together a database, which we call, pun intentional, the MINDbank. The platform will make it easier for member States to compare and contrast documents with each other, and foremost, to inspire policy makers and researchers to identify positive and successful examples.

Hopefully, the initiative will demand more resources and efforts to be invested in mental health care. But, as I hope my text has demonstrated, this will be worth it on an individual as well as societal level.

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