You words. Your power: Project

Call for partnership“A word after a word after a word is power”
Margaret Atwood, Canadian writer

TITLE OF THE PROJECT:
“Your words. Your power: Writing as a self-empowering tool for women’s mental health in developing countries”

SUMMARY
It has been seen that women in developing countries face many challenges that can stop them from fulfilling their potential, but also increase the risk of mental illness.
Writing techniques can be used as an effective and powerful tool to help these women improve their mental well-being and increase their inner strength. As a result, this will additionally have a positive impact on their families and community.
Writing has been used with positive results in the western world and developed countries as a successful therapeutic method for psycho-emotional development. We also propose to introduce it in developing countries, where writing is not well known as a therapeutic method.
What we specifically propose is to use expressive writing as a method for increasing the mental well-being of women living in developing countries. Our focus group will be women and young girls.
With our project, we can make a significant contribution to women empowerment in developing countries, where limited access to education, fewer chances for professional development, domestic violence and societal abuse can have serious consequences on the quality of women’s lives and increase the risk of depression. Since women are more vulnerable to experiencing mental problems related to psychological and physical challenges, a high prevalence of depression among females can significantly hinder women empowerment.
Taking into account expressive writing as an efficient method of psychological self-counselling that increases mental well-being and helps self-empowerment, we propose this pilot project in order to offer expressive writing methods to women in selected developing countries.
With our project, women will learn what expressive writing is and how to use it purposely to build their psycho-social competencies.

OVERALL GOAL
Apply expressive writing to women in developing countries in order to empower them through promoting mental well-being and psychological self-counselling.

INTRODUCTION
How writing can help increase the mental well-being of girls and women

According to research, expressive writing can relieve symptoms of pain, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in survivors of intimate partner violence. Depressed women assigned to expressive writing show a significantly greater drop in depression. Applied to women with intimate partner violence history (IPV), expressive writing may lead to reduced depression. (Koopman & Al.)
For this specific group of women in developing countries, writing can be used in order to help them express their feelings in a safe environment and narrate their stories. They learn, that through writing they can have a lifelong friend and a low cost counselor. Trust is significant for vulnerable people and expressive writing can restore this. Women who practice writing skills, can increase inner strength and self-esteem. These qualities are the basis of empowered actions taken in order to live life to the full as far as courage and happiness potential are concerned. This is very important, because it will not only improve the lives of empowered women, but it will also have an impact on their families and communities.

Why expressive writing
One additional reason for using therapeutic writing in developing countries is that it is a low cost treatment. Its use requires one (or more) qualified facilitator(s), a paper and pen or computer. The physical presence of the facilitator isn’t always necessary. It can be applied successfully through the internet using specific web tools as email prompts, e-diaries, web platforms, videos, teleconferences etc.
Moreover, there are no prerequisites as far as good writing skills or language use are concerned, because this method encourages free writing without the anxiety of good spelling or grammar rules. One of the main goals for the participants is to learn how to write without the stress of criticism. In special cases participants use narration and a mediator writes. The problem of different languages being spoken by facilitator and participant can be solved with the mediation of translators.

Why we can help
In this project, we will blend the experience of Dimitra Didangelou and Joanna Robaczewska. Dimitra is a psychologist, science journalist and author, who has been using expressive writing as a tool in individual and group sessions, aiming to help people bring balance into their lives and promote mental well-being. She works a lot through the internet with a special e-learning platform, giving clients the opportunity to participate from wherever they live.
Joanna is a scientist working in the field of medical biology and health innovation. In her research, she has been studying biological mechanisms of depression. She also created an internet platform which is a self-observational tool for tracking mood and behaviour.

Selected testimonials about expressive writing:

Outstanding experience, which helps you to discover a new part of yourself.
R.N., Switzerland

Through expressive writing I gained breath and power. I learned to see situations and myself from a whole different perspective, more intrinsically and hopefully.
N.K., Luxembourg

Freedom, revelation, catharsis. I felt like I got the pen down to my soul and then I imprinted it onto paper. And then, I faced the truth that finally was inside me. I saw, on the paper, me, in my most authentic form.
Th. K., Cyprus

It touches the soul and liberates emotions…
K.I., Greece

I liked the workshop very much, the leader was very helpful and the other participants were nice and respectful. The exercises helped me to unblock my mind and to understand better my thinking and feelings.
P.D., Berlin

SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PROJECT
Why women’s mental health is important for their empowerment

There is increasing recognition of women empowerment worldwide, including in developing countries. Women have always played a strong role in society, however, in the early days these roles were strongly embedded in a family context, implying that a woman’s responsibility was to be a good wife and mother. In this set up, the socioeconomic well-being of family members, including women, would depend on the man as a provider and the representative of the family, within general society. Following socioeconomic developments in the past decades, the position of women in society has changed radically, allowing women to get a job and support themselves. This has also created opportunities to fulfill individual potential and make an impact in the public and private domain. For example, women are breaking free from traditional, gender-specific roles and are venturing into the business world and women entrepreneurship. This has been recognized as an important source of economic growth, through which women create new jobs for themselves and also provide society with different solutions to management, organization and business problems. When empowered, women approach their responsibilities in a socially respectful way embracing their love, intuition and creativity in order to grow and share wealth and well-being with others. It has already been recognized that a feminine power can be a catalyst of change at the global level, through creating socioeconomic value within the family and community. Femininity stands for a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and improving quality of life, whereas society at large is more competitive.

However, globally women are considered as the weaker gender from a physical and emotional perspective and are therefore still very often subjected to mental and physical abuse in their families and communities. Firstly, limited access to education and fewer chances for professional development and secondly, traumatization due to abuse, can have serious consequences on the quality of women’s lives in developing countries. This includes a serious medical burden including depression, which has been linked to risk factors such as conflict, intimate partner violence and child and sexual abuse, the levels of which vary and are the highest in developing countries [1]. A high prevalence of depression can hinder the development in these countries, creating social and economical burdens from disability and decreased productivity. Since women are considered more vulnerable to experiencing mental problems related to psychological and physical challenges, a high prevalence of depression amongst females can significantly obstruct the current efforts to empower women and encourage the use of their feminine power in order to serve their families and communities with dignity.

The socio-economic and political situation in developing countries is perpetuating the problem because of the lack of resources in effective mental care, including inaccurate assessment, lack of awareness and social stigma associated with mental problems. These all increase unnecessary suffering. Although scarcity of resources can limit some approaches for improving mental health, existing resources can be used to provide better care for people with mental illness, using affordable yet efficient and cost-effective methods such us expressive writing. In line with that, we are convinced that bringing expressive writing methods to women in selected developing countries can benefit them at a personal and professional level, but also offer benefits to their communities and societies.

REFERENCES
Adams, K. (1998). The Way of the Journal. Second edition. Baltimore, Maryland: The Sidran Institute Press.

Adams, K. (1999). Writing as therapy. Counseling & Human Development. Denver: Love Publishing.

DeSalvo, L. (1999). Writing as a way of healing. Boston: Beacon Press.

Ferrari AJ, Charlson FJ, Norman RE, Patten SB, Freedman G, Murray CJ, et al. (2013) Burden of depressive disorders by country, sex, age, and year: findings from the global burden of disease study 2010. PLoS medicine.
Grason, S. (2005). Journalution: journaling to awaken your inner voice, heal your life, and manifest your dreams. 1st edition. Novato, California: New Wolrd Library.
Koopman, C., Ismailji, T., Holmes, D., Classen, C., Palesh, O., & Wales, T. (2005). The effects of expressive writing on pain, depression, and posttraumatic stress symptoms in partners of intimate violence. Journal of Health Psychology, 10(2), 211–221.
Kuruppuarachchi KALA, Wijeratne LT. (2004) Depression intervention in resource-poor regions. The British Journal of Psychiatry.
Pennebaker, J.W.. (2004). Writing to heal: A guided journal for recovering from trauma and emotional upheaval. Oakland CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Progoff, I. (1992). At a Journal Workshop. New York: Tarcher.
Rogers, C.R. (1980). A way of being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Schneider, P. (2003). Writing alone and with others. USA: Oxford University Press

CALL FOR PARTNERSHIP
We invite you to participate with us in this aim and together help women in developing countries to write in order to promote their mental health and community’s general well-being.
Specifically, we welcome collaboration from partners who can help us to access local communities and reach our target group, in order to be able to offer expressive writing methods to women in developing countries.

 

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES
Dimitra Didangelou

Dimitra Didangelou is a psychologist, science journalist and author.
She has worked as a journalist for more than twelve years in order to raise public awareness about mental health issues. Over recent years, she has additionally worked as a certified psychologist. Through expressive writing techniques, Dimitra helps people to bring balance in their lives and increase self- awareness.
She works with individuals and groups through the internet, having participants from all over the world. To paraphrase Ludwig Wittgenstein, she believes that “the limits of our world are the limits of the internet connection.”
When not working online, she grounds herself and finds balance between virtual and real life, by facilitating workshops which take place in nature, as it’s a way to come closer to our authentic and creative self.
She’s the founder of a business called “Psyche” (www.empowerpsyche.org), which offers workshops promoting mental health and includes a psychology web magazine.
She’s a published author of a novel and many short stories.
Her training includes Advanced Study in Therapeutic Writing (The Center for Journal Writing in Denver, CO, USA), a Master of Science Degree in Psychology and Mass Media, a Bachelor Degree in Psychology and a Certificate in Philosophical Counselling and Psychotherapy.
She’s a member of the Movement for Global Mental Health, the International Association for Journal Writing and the Science View.

Learn more about Dimitra Didangelou here.
TEDx Speech

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Joanna Robaczewska
Dr. Joanna Robaczewska is a scientist, entrepreneur and philanthropist. Since 2009 she has been involved in academic research at a medical university, leading scientific projects on the mechanisms of aging and various diseases of affluence, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, COPD and psychiatric disorders.
She established Foundation, through which she carries out independent projects in order to increase understanding of mental health and provide support for depressed people. Recently, the VitaForto platform has been developed in order to support therapy, prevention and education for depression.
Joanna Robaczewska has committed herself to supporting the mental health and well-being of individuals and society. To accomplish her goal she applied her skills and resources by undertaking systematic efforts at different levels. Firstly, she conducted PhD research that contributed significantly to a body of knowledge that explains the biological basis of depression, therefore contributing to new developments in the field of diagnostics and therapy, which are important for patients and their families.
In order to provide direct and immediate support to people in need, she found partners and raised funds for the development of internet tools that can help educate about disease management and treatment. She also actively engages with the patients, acting as their advocate.
She’s a member of the Movement for Global Mental Health and Mental Health Europe.

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