An interview with Kate Cotton

Mental Illness Awareness week ran this year on October 2-8. Throughout that week you may have seen tweets and various social media posts stressing the importance of stable mental health and its support. The awareness raised last week then lead up to World Mental Health Day on October 10.
In honor of this important topic and the week dedicated to it, we decided to share a recent write-up that we received from a past participant on our Global Mental Health Internships program, Kate Cotton of the University of Glasgow.
Kate was kind enough to share with us the text she submitted to the University of Rwanda that details her experience at the Rwandan Icyizere Rehabilitation Center. It is our hope that this story inspires you to think more deeply about the value of quality mental health support, especially in a global context. In addition, we hope that you will continue to make yourself aware of the importance of mental health, thereby contributing to the sustainability of global mental health awareness and support.
Kate’s Experience
I took part in the ‘Mental Health Care Practice in Rwanda and the Wider Region Summer School/Knowledge Exchange.’ I then joined the international internship program that is linked to the summer school. I worked for two months (July and August of 2016) at the ‘Centre Icyizere’, a psychotherapeutic center with a special mission that offers patients suffering from PTSD and related disturbances comprehensive quality care within a peaceful, calm, and family like environment. In addition, detoxification, relapse prevention, and aftercare services for patients with alcohol and drug addiction are part of the package of care delivered at the Centre.
My main responsibilities were shadowing staff, assisting in rehabilitation group therapies, sitting in on individual therapies, assisting with admission and discharge and assisting patients with their everyday activities.
To sum up my time as an intern in a psychiatric centre in Rwanda in three words: rich, inspiring and challenging.

The Richness of Kate’s Experience
Having just finished a Masters in Global Mental Health at the University of Glasgow, UK, undertaking an internship in Rwanda was a really valuable way to consolidate all my knowledge from my year of study. It was rich in engagement, learning and experience. Having the opportunity to really engage and build relationships with staff and patients was a privilege. An important reflection for me was to be sure to convey that I was there to observe and learn. I was not a ‘mzungu’ here to give my ‘expert knowledge’ but to learn from those at the centre. I think that this was the key ingredient for the richness of my experience, being willing and open and gaining the trust and respect of the staff and patients.
What Inspired Kate
This experience was inspiring, in that I saw the care and compassion the staff had for patients, the struggles they faced such as time, resources and energy and the ways they overcame such difficulties. They welcomed me as a member of staff. The patients were open and trusting enough to share their stories with me. To allow me to see their strength and determination towards recovery while also showing me their vulnerability and hurt was also a source of inspiration.
What Challenged Kate
There were also a number of challenges. It was challenging to come from a highly organised and what we would call ‘efficient’ western setting to what would feel slightly disorganised in comparison such as, not having clear duties set out in advance of my arrival. It was challenging to not let pre-existing ideas of how care should be interfere with my learning and reflection and finding effective ways to discuss concerns or questions around care in respectful and helpful ways. And the biggest challenge of all, saying goodbye.
The challenges are part of the learning experience and can add to the richness and inspiration if you reflect on them in a useful way.

Kate’s Recommendation
I would recommend you to apply for a mental health internship in Rwanda if you are ready to learn and experience a country providing the best possible mental health care in a low-income setting in a non-prejudicial way, but while also having the confidence to offer help you are requested to that is within your capacity and in line with the wants and needs of the community you are serving.
For more information on our mental health related programs, please follow the links below: