Activism, pandemic and problems that cannot wait

As the pandemic continues, the mental health of activists is increasingly damaged

It seems that Davor Marjanović can’t stop working. Both weekends and holidays are full of plans and invitations, in which, with great desire, but increasingly difficult to fit private obligations. It is never easy to create change, and in order for the whole community to be animated and united, someone has to take action. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Davor and his association “Srce Husina” have been helping the citizens in need with great enthusiasm. Constant field work and parallel coordination with the Husino Local Development Group, which conducts multifaceted activities for the benefit of the community, have brought it into a vicious circle of overwork.

Caring for the community must not mean to stop caring for oneself

“It is a great challenge for me to balance activism and self-care, because we are surrounded by endless problems. The impulse to push myself beyond my limits is hard to resist, because activists are otherwise driven by a vision of a better society. Although most people today speak wisely about the importance of taking care of ourselves, I believe that it is still very superficial and that the enormous stress and burnout we are experiencing due to the pandemic is a real opportunity to radically rethink the way we act as activists. The goal is not to work 500% for two years, but to find a balance and be activists throughout our lives”, says Marjanović.

Although the pandemic brought additional stress and reorganization of life to all categories of the population, long-term neglect of needs, chronic emotional, mental and physical exhaustion two years after the pandemic began to affect those who forgot themselves by helping others. With the impaired mental health, volunteers and activists need support after all.

Two-thirds of activists feel the effects of burnout

Working with activists and organizations in the field at the Tuzla Community Foundation, we noticed that a large number of activists are feeling the effects of burnout and stress. Due to the pandemic, a large number of organizations made all their resources available to help those in need at the moment, bringing their human and material resources to the limit. As a result of working in such circumstances, the mental health of the members of these organizations was impaired.

In order to support these people, the Foundation organized focus groups where out of a total of 86 representatives of organizations, as many as two thirds emphasized the need for professional support provided to them in partnership with professional organizations and professionals in this field.

Is it enough to talk about it?

In this way, we have begun to tear down the walls around the way we talk about mental health – and that is an undeniably positive step. The conversation may not be enough in itself, but, of course, it is a key part for achieving greater awareness and new approaches, according to psychologists Alma Tihić, Ivona Erdeljac, who provide psychological assistance to participants in forums and focus groups.

“The pandemic has brought additional burdens for community activists as they have continued their volunteer engagement, without any additional support. During the psychoeducational sessions, they became aware of the need for additional self-care, which they have not practiced so far, despite fatigue and psychosomatic difficulties,” explains Altaira Krvavac, a gestalt therapist, adding that motivation for continuing to work in the community is not lacking.

Young people are most aware of the importance of mental health

Since young people were the most open to this type of support, psychologist Alma Tihić, who leads sessions with this category of activists, says that in this sense there has been a significant shift in recent years, and that young people are increasingly applying for professional help. The pandemic mostly affected the development of anxiety, fear of the unknown, which brought a lot of anxiety, restlessness, nervousness and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. They are emotionally exhausted, and in order to overcome that, they need to return to social connections, socializing, fun and entertainment.”

Women have the most alarming symptoms

When it comes to women activists, Ivona Erdeljac, who provides psychological support to this category of population, points out that stigma related to mental health is less and less present in our region, but that at the same time, given the current worrying state of mental health, especially for women, they are still insufficiently seeking help.

“Women who have worked with users in need in the field since the beginning of the pandemic, risking their health, have been exposed to additional stress. Anxiety or panic attacks most often developed from the accumulated stress, while depressive states often occurred from long-term non-treatment of these symptoms”, explains Erdeljac further.

Thanks for the good

Since the mind is the greatest resource for change, special care should be taken of mental health. For activists, who are fully emotionally invested in what they do, this is of particular importance. Although it mostly brings with it happiness and excitement, the other side of activism, which is almost never visible, often involves long and exhausting struggles, which sometimes make activists feel that their efforts are not appreciated.

Due to this specificity of activism, the recommendation of experts is to provide activists with long-term support in order to preserve mental health, but the most important thing is that we as a society pay tribute to their efforts and volunteer work. That way we all benefit because communities would not be deprived of the many inspiring individuals who work tirelessly for the good of all.

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