Crossing Boundaries to Improve Mental Health in the Americas: International Collaborative Authorship

Article excerpt

Abstract: A nurse anthropologist with a background in international collaborations attended Project LEAD for two years, which enabled her to continue to serve as an advocate for the mentally ill in Belize. The anthropologist collaborated with a psychiatrist from Belize to develop a cross-cultural, cross-discipline publication, "Mental Health in Belize: A National Priority," which highlights the work of psychiatric nurse practitioners in the country. The researcher learned to collaborate with her peer in Belize through face to face discussions and e-mail and overcame technological difficulties and cultural barriers to produce an international publication. Project LEAD gave the author a sense of self-discovery and self-knowledge, reinforced core values, and developed a frame of reference for leadership. The author also benefited from discussions by local, national, and international leaders on leadership in terms of its key components, contexts, challenges, triumphs, and styles.

Key Words: Mentally Ill, Belize, Psychiatric, Project LEAD, Collaborations, International Collaborative Authorship

According to Bessent and Fleming (2003), leadership is "a process of social influence in which one person is able to enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task." My tenure as a Fellow in the Leadership Enhancement and Development (LEAD) Project enabled me to advocate for the mentally ill by developing a cross-cultural, cross-discipline publication. The purpose of my project was to enhance awareness of mental health needs in the Americas through a collaborative publication. As a nurse anthropologist in the United States, I partnered with a Belizean psychiatrist to co-author a manuscript on mental health.

Several steps led to this joint venture. I first became aware of the scope of mental illness in Belize when I conducted research for my doctoral dissertation. My investigation was an ethnographic study of Creole Belizean families who had a mentally challenged child. Later, in 1999, I participated in "Nursing Contributing to Improve Mental Health in the Americas," a regionally convened meeting of nurse experts to address mental health needs of the continent. An outcome of this meeting was that I initiated and completed the development of a videotape, titled, "Innovations in Mental Health," in Belize that was produced by the Pan American Health Organization. During the development of the videotape, the opportunity arose to interact with health professionals who provided care to the mentally ill. I was also able to visit health facilities and programs for the mentally ill. Because I was extremely impressed by the psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners (PNPs), and mental health consumer groups, I was determined to "tell their stories" through publications. Additional fieldwork was conducted in Belize to complete this process. One book chapter, "Integrative Healing in Mental Health Nursing: A case Study in Belize," which is in press and will be published by the Pan American Health Organization, focuses on the use of indigenous and conventional healing approaches in treating mental illness. This book chapter will be included among other case studies describing "best mental health practices" in nursing. Project LEAD provided an exceptional opportunity to develop a second, collaborative publication, "Mental Health in Belize: A National Priority," which highlights the work of psychiatric nurse practitioners in the country.


Collaboration, as a leadership construct, frames the process of joint publishing, which is also a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary endeavor. Koopman and Wierdsma (1998) define collaborative/participative leadership as "joint decision making or shared influence in decision making." This approach facilitates leadership by increasing the quality of decisions made, increasing motivation and satisfaction, providing the opportunity to acquire shared knowledge, minimizing barriers between individuals, and fostering innovation (Somech, 2003). …


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