‘If you treat people like dirt long enough, they slowly lose themselves’
"He couldn't sleep: the 17-year-old boy who came to us at the clinic." says psychiatrist Fenneke. He was alone in the camp and slept with six young men in a small room in a large hangar.
At night, he could not sleep, afraid of the fires that had recently occurred in other hangars. He did not lock his room to escape with his belongings as quickly as possible. And because he did not lock his door, his phone was stolen. He had lost the only form of communication he had with his family in his country of origin as was communication with official bodies.
At the clinic, we tell him that it is human to have trouble sleeping under these circumstances. That it is understandable to be intensely sad. Sometimes people think they have gone mad, which only worsens their mental state. Just hearing from someone that what they are feeling and thinking is normal often relieves the mental pressure.
It is so many times one human being
This work is tough, but it helps me not to be overwhelmed by the fact that ‘it’s so many people’. Of course that is true. But it is so many times one human being. A human being who has put his life on the line. Being in the camp myself suddenly makes it much more personal. I now see the people behind the numbers. It changes something in you when you hear stories with your own ears and see with your own eyes how people get caught between international interests.
During their flight, people are often not seen as human beings but as a problem, a danger. If you treat people like dirt long enough, they slowly lose themselves. Every human being needs to be treated as a human being. That is essential to remain mentally stable.”
Fenneke worked as a Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) volunteer on Lesvos from February to April 2022. As a psychiatrist in the Netherlands, she has experience in both acute psychiatric care and long-term psychotherapy.
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