Dr Helena A. Mitchell: Reconnecting with my Guyanese roots through PAR

Making the reconnection

My interest in participatory action research (PAR) really developed following the successful completion of a PhD study. This involved a group of Guyanese women living with Type 2 diabetes in England. Like me they had migrated during the 60’s and 70’s. Many of my family members in Guyana had the condition, often dismissing it as “a touch of sugar”. As a nursing professional I was acutely aware of the complications that leaving the condition untreated could cause. This became the impetus for a methodology that could give a voice for people to talk about their experiences of living with diabetes when also faced with dealing with migration and a colonial past. I felt our voices, as Guyanese women, were not being heard.

In the 1980’s I was a community psychiatric nurse. This role heightened my awareness of women’s mental health problems and championed their cause for improved community mental health services. This developing interest in feminism led to a Master’s Degree in Women Studies. “Being heard and given a voice” was a common call and I firmly believed in the feminist slogan of “personal should be made political”.

Returning to Guyana.

PAR inevitably changes you, sometimes painfully, sometimes in exciting and sustaining ways. My experience is that it brings about beneficial and sustainable change so my commitment to this methodology continues. It has led to British Academy funding for a research project in Guyana where I will lead a team of researchers.

This community mental health resilience project has generated international interest because of its transferable outcomes potential. ARCLIGHT, the official project name, commenced in February 2019 and is due to complete in July 2020. This ground breaking PAR study aims to explore mental illness resiliency within complex communities and encourage behavioural change. Participatory action research methods will identify record and share successful local practices evolved over time to cope with challenging personal, cultural, organisational and environmental stressors and conditions.

As a researcher I feel committed to honouring the participants’ experiences and ensuring genuine and life changing collaboration.

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