(P)Sei Pate - a student project aims at a national issue

by Maria Eichel

A large portion of the world’s population is affected by a variety of mental health problems ranging from anxiety and depression to schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. Often, mental health problems result in social isolation, low quality of life or even suicide.

On the other hand, science is constantly moving forward to decipher the genetic and environmental risk factors for these disorders. Psychotherapists are trained to discover, help, and treat patients who are suffering from mental health problems. Beyond that, it is also important for family and friends of the affected individual to be educated on how to behave when daily life seems out of the ordinary. The Mental Health Awareness Month is intended to spread the word that everyone should be informed and care about mental health issues - not only for ourselves, but also for our friends, family, and beyond.

It is the “beyond” with which a project called (P)Sei Pate is concerned. Over the last years, the number of refugees in Germany, Europe, and all over the world has grown significantly. Concurrently, the recognition of refugees suffering from mental health problems has risen. Studies in Germany have shown that 40-50% of adult refugees suffer from Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression, and both in some cases (Statement from the Chamber of Psychotherapists in Germany; BPtK, 2015). With regard to children and adolescents, childhood trauma can have a lasting impact on cognitive, moral, and personality development, as well as interpersonal relationships and coping abilities (Terr, 1983, Pynoos & Nader, 1988, Sack et al., 1993). Overall, the occurrence of PTSD is drastically increased in refugees compared to the overall German population, which can result in a powerlessness and inability to manage daily life or even suicidal thoughts. Thus far we have not been able to assess and effectively address the psychological needs of individual refugees. Not every refugee is able to access or need psychotherapeutic treatment. So why not help them get a better daily structure, teach them coping strategies, and actively help them with their integration into society in order to reduce mental risk factors? And why not have motivated psychology students, who have a chance to learn and teach at the same time, help out with this?

Jasmin Colic, a Bosnian psychology doctoral researcher at the Technical University Dresden, is the initiator of the (P)Sei Pate project. In 1992, his parents, his older sister, and he fled from Bosnia to Germany because of the civil war in his home country. He can still vividly remember how his parents had a hard time at the beginning dealing with the language barriers, a new ”home”, the constant worry for family and friends they had left behind, and of course the need and wish to integrate into an unfamiliar society. Driven by his childhood experiences and the experiences he gained during his internship at the psychiatric clinic of the University of Sarajevo, where he worked almost exclusively with PTSD patients, he decided to initiate a support system for refugees in Germany, in the form of one-to-one companionships between psychology students and refugees. During their time together, the psychology students use scientifically proven psychological techniques to explore interests, needs, and goals of individual refugees. With joint activities, that match those needs and interests, they aim to speed up recovery, to stabilize the life situations of refugees, and to lower stigmas; first by walking side by side with the refugees, but gradually empowering the refugees to be independent and integrate into society. This process is additionally supervised by certified psychotherapists to ensure professional care.

By now, the team has grown. Jasmin and the other members - Constantin Kleiner (also a psychology student), Dominik Muhs (a Computer Science major), and Tobias Vogel (a Business & Economy student) - have already helped establish several companionships for volunteering students. (P)Sei Pate now works together with clinics and other mental health institutions, the University of Technology Dresden, as well as local associations and plans to apply for financial grants.. Up to this point, the project has generated a great deal of interest from supporters. Currently, the team constantly tries to improve the connection between regional clinics, therapists, and affected individuals, which will hopefully lead to better integration and care system for refugees in Dresden and the surrounding area. In addition, they aim to empirically evaluate their concept by initiating a study on the association between activity levels and increases in life satisfaction and psychological flexibility.

In conclusion, (P)Sei pate addresses the refugees, who carry a great psychological burden and aims to develop a lasting connection to society. Not only does (P)Sei pate spread the word about refugees suffering from mental health problems, it’s volunteers/founders have also developed a creative and successful way to change the situation in a way that our society could also benefit from. Learn more about (P)Sei Pate: 

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