Mind-Spring’s overall aim is to improve the mental health along with the social, economical and cultural integration of asylum seekers and refugees. It is an intervention programme in which trained asylum seekers and refugees volunteer to give psycho-social support and education to groups of fellow asylum seekers and refugees. Psycho-education and parenting support is provided in refugees' own language, taking into account their culture and customs. The trained asylum seeker or refugee works in partnership with and is coached by a Municipal Health Services professional. Both parties work with the Mind-Spring training guide. The methodology adopted by Mind-Spring centres on giving asylum seekers and refugees greater insight into their problems, the tools to handle these problems better and, if required, referring them for specific professional help. In addition, participants are informed about the structure of the healthcare system in the Netherlands and the people who are employed in that system. A major component of the training programme is empowerment: strengthening the individual's problem-solving abilities and sense of identity.
“Mind-Spring empowers refugees and gives them a stronger sense of identity in their new country”
Paul Sterk originally started the Mind-Spring methodology working with internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sierra Leone. Upon returning to the Netherlands, he met with the Dutch Council for Refugees (DCfR), which was looking for a new way to approach the recurring mental health problems of refugees and asylum seekers. Collaborating with them and with the NGO PHAROS (a knowledge and advisory centre on migrants, refugees and health) together they carried out a study to identify refugee and asylum seeker needs in the area. The results, combined with consultations with a group of highly educated refugees, assisted in forming the Netherlands Mind-Spring methodology
Since starting the programme, 180 trainers, from ten different countries, have been trained, among whom 56 are still working with Mind-Spring. By sharing and adapting the methodology, the programme now runs in Belgium and Denmark.
✔✔ As trainers do not always have a mental health background, it is important to have a cooperative relationship with the local mental health institute;
✔✔When transferring the programme to other contexts and countries, solid information is needed about the possibilities that refugees have in those contexts and countries. For example, what are the opportunities for a refugee in Greece and what in Sweden? It is essential to be realistic about what is possible in the country where refugees and asylum seekers live all the while considering their experience and background;
✔✔ Some subjects are taboo or very hard to talk about, and methodology must be adjusted constantly. Among Somali groups for example, sexual harassment has been a difficult issue that no one is very willing to discuss. In response, the trainers and Somalis developed cards that have helped in the expression of feelings about certain issues.
At first the training manual was too complicated, scientific and theory-based. Mind-Spring simplified it with more practical exercises and experiences, especially for implementation with the changing asylum seeker and refugee population, where some are uneducated or illiterate. As the work is voluntary, it is hard to keep Mind-Spring trainers committed. Commitment has improved through developing the idea that Mind-Spring is the trainers’ programme, i.e., for the trainers and for people who need mental health support, with Mind-Spring administrators only supporting the trainers’ programme.