Sam, here during her visit to Lithuania.
Alumnus Samantha Lilly (’19) received a Watson award — a highly competitive award that allows students to pursue a project central to their intellectual passions for an entire year upon graduation. Moreover, the Watson requires students to do so in four or five different countries around the world. Sam began researching her project on suicidality in SOAN 299: Ethnographic Methods, and then continued exploring that very same theme in an AHSS Summer Research project. That same interest is driving her trek around the world: she’s trying to understand how suicide is framed, conceptualized, and addressed in different cultural settings. And after a few months in the Netherlands, she’s now wrapping up her time in Argentina. I asked her for an update, and here’s the reply I received!
Hello from Buenos Aires, Argentina! This is not my first time writing something for the University of Puget Sound’s Sociology and Anthropology blog. In the summer of 2018, when I Andrew was my research advisor, I had the opportunity to tell you all about the ethnographic study I was conducting concerning the narratives Survivors of Suicide have surrounding their loved one’s death.
At the World Congress on Mental Health meeting, 2019.
I have since graduated from UPS. Now, I am Thomas J. Watson Fellow! My project, “Understanding Suicidality Across Cultures” aims to, unsurprisingly, understand suicide across cultures from a medical, political, historical, indigenous, religious, spiritual, and socioeconomic perspective. The overall goal of the project is to learn from other cultures.
What do these communities know that we in the States do not? What must I learn or unlearn to better understand the unique situatedness of each culture and the people found within?
At the offices of the Dutch suicide prevention line.
I spent two and a half months in Europe (the end of July to the middle of October), primarily based in the Netherlands, traveling from city to city every day (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, etc.). I spent most of my time interviewing psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, bioethicists, and general practitioners about their impressions of the 2002 Dutch Euthanasia Law. This law, unlike Death with Dignity Laws in the States, also allows people who have a diagnosed psychiatric illness to request to die with the aid of their General Practitioner. Indeed, there are many requirements and criteria that must be met in order for the patient to be approved e.g., unbearable suffering, no viable alternative, amongst other things.
Sam befriended these boys via the urban soccer pitch
Some of these psychiatrists allowed me to speak with their patients who are requesting to die via psychiatric euthanasia – one of my favorite days in Europe was spent in Antwerp, Belgium drinking beer and coffee with Amy, who was approved for psychiatric euthanasia three years ago, but has yet to utilize it. I also spent an abundance of time interviewing suicide prevention networks as well as their national rail operator, ProRail.
I have also been going out of my way to “feel the edges” of my project. I toured the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam with an expert on Van Gogh’s suicide and then later traveled to the South of France to retrace Vincent’s steps to understand the ecological and aesthetic deterrents to suicidality.
But, one of the most impactful periods of my fellowship thus far was found Lithuania. I flew to the Baltic Country because it boasts the highest suicide rate in the European Union. (And, also the third highest globally.) There, I gleaned incredible insights into the impact cultural trauma and the transgenerational transmission of trauma from suicidologists and representatives from the United Nations. There are no words for this experience.
At the Boca Juniors game in Buenos Aires
I am now living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Here, I spend a lot of time with the incredible people working within the Argentinian Ministry on Mental Health. In 2010, the ministry and directorate implemented a mental health care law based in human rights (Ley de salud mental N 26657). Its end goal? To eliminate psychiatric hospitals across the nation. However, when I am not working within the government, I travel to the remaining psychiatric and general hospitals interviewing patients on their past suicide attempts, their experience with stigma, and the psychiatrists who run the wards. Although it takes a lot of reflection and time to comprehend what I’m learning, one thing is made immediately clear: community based approaches to suicidality are significantly more effective than simply involuntarily committing and medicating patients.
Amongst all of the interviews with professionals, I also spend a lot of time asking locals and friends “why they stay alive?” This is my nice way of asking: “why haven’t you killed yourself?” I transcribe and code each of these interviews and the results are philosophically fascinating! I’ll let you know more when I am more confident in the findings. (-;
Basking in football fandom in Argentina
I will soon head to the Argentine countryside to work on a farm that advertises itself as an alternative to traditional and medical forms of psychotherapy. Then, shortly after Christmas, I fly to New Zealand to learn from the Māori people, whose youth kill themselves at an unfathomable rate in comparison with the rest of the world. After my stint in New Zealand, I fly to Indonesia to delve into the religious and spiritual perspectives concerning suicidality. And, lastly, I will make my way to Nepal, the poorest country in South Asia, to understand how socioeconomic distress amongst indigeneity and religiosity affects the Nepali people in the city of Kathmandu and those in the Terai plains, in Bhairahawa.
I’m four months into my Watson Year and there is so much I have left unsaid in this blog post. Here are a few highlights beyond what I’ve said above.
- I am obsessed with the Turkish food found in the Netherlands. I’d do anything for another kapsalon or Turkish pizza. I also am obsessed with the people there. I miss my Dutch friends daily.
- I have learned so much about what it means to “fail up” (another main tenant of the Watson). Plan B should be as good, if not better, than Plan A.
- I have the opportunity to play fútbol with the psychiatrists, service users, and psychologists from Hospital Álverez every Friday (I dedicated a lot of my life to the sport). And, it is one of the most beautiful collaborations of passion I have ever experienced.
- As a barista, it is beautiful to have a skill that is applicable worldwide. I get to pour my own cappuccino every day, no matter what country I’m in.
If you want to follow along outside of the SOAN Blog – feel free to visit my personal Watson blog at eatingyellowpaint.com.
Dank je wel! Gracias!