2019 Humanitarian Mission to Armenia Launching Suicide Prevention Lifeline Summary

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Nanar Nakashian, Dr. Ani Kalayjian, & Dr. Justina Medina

We planned to return to Armenia with several goals to be accomplished, including the launch of the very first Suicide Prevention Lifeline in Armenia and the very first Psi Chi Chapter in the Caucuses.

October 2019 team members of the Association for Trauma Outreach and Prevention (ATOP), MeaningfulWorld Armenia Mission consisted of Dr. Ani Kalayjian, Justina Medina, and Nanar Nakashian. Our MeaningfulWorld Armenia coordinators were Lara Abrahamyan and Karen Gargaryan. This year, Lorraine Simmons will join Dr. Ani Kalayjian.

Our first day of the mission began at the Academy of the Ministry of Emergency Situations where representatives from the Psychological Department of the Ministry of Emergency Situations enthusiastically greeted us. There were promising discussions of collaborations and of what MeaningfulWorld has to offer, such as trainings on emotional management and meaning making. Later in the day, we had 80 students actively participate in our workshop at the Pedagogical Institute on the generational impact of trauma and approaches to post-traumatic healing. The day continued at the Psychology Department at the Pedagogical Institute. Over 65 students were very excited about the 7 Step Integrative Healing Model and Soul-Surfing. We concluded the day with the celebration of World Mental Health Day at the Yerevan State University and with the launch of the first Suicide Prevention Lifeline in Armenia. Additionally, we launched the Armenian translated publication of Dr. Kalayjian’s book, Forget Me Not.

On Day 3, the team helped celebrate Yerevan State University’s 100th anniversary. We were invited to participate in the 7th International Conference on the Current Issues in Theoretical and Applied Psychology, where Dr. Kalayjian shared how to transform tragedy and trauma into healing and meaning making. Dr. Harold Takooshian presented on International Psychology, and both Drs. Kalayjian and Takooshian introduced their efforts to establish the first Psi Chi Chapter in the Caucuses at Yerevan State University in collaboration with Dr. Hrant Avanesyan.

On Day 4, the team went to Yerevan State Medical University, Department of Medical Psychology, where we conducted a training on the 7 Step Integrative Healing Model, EQ (Emotional Intelligence), and how to heal the mind, body, and spirit holistically. Participants consisted of psychiatrists and psychologists. We also had the opportunity to discuss the benefits of EMDR and provide supervision with a small group of professionals who were trained 20 years ago with our volunteer Dr. Gergerian. The team spent Day 5 at the closure of the International Psychological Conference at Yerevan State University with a workshop, later celebrating the establishment of the Pan-Armenian Psychological Association. We concluded the day with a moving experience at Megerian Carpet Museum and Cultural Center in Yerevan. We thank Karen Ayvazyan and John D. Megerian for their collaboration on the establishment of the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

On Day 6, we started at Article 3, an equal rights center, where we conducted suicide prevention training with volunteers. This experience was very meaningful because we got to address causes of the rise of suicide in Armenia. In the afternoon, we were invited to by Dr. Gevork Poghosyan, to the National Academy of Science Institute of Philosophy, Sociology and Law, where Drs. Kalayjian and Takooshian presented on 30 years of collaboration with the Academy. At the invitation of Dr. Khachig Gasparyan, we ended the day at the American University of Armenia (AUA) and facilitated training (the only workshop in English) for his psychology class. The university students were curious and had a wonderful discussion about trauma, PTSD, and suicide prevention.

The team began Day 7 in Vanadzor, located about 80 miles north of Yerevan. We conducted training at the Town Hall with around 65 police, psychologists, judges, lawyers, and other professionals. The group was lively and very interested in the discussion around mass trauma. We then had the honor to meet with his holiness, Archbishop Sebouh Chouldjian of Vanadzor, at his invitation. Thereafter, we conducted training at Vanadzor State University on mental health and trauma healing. An essential part of our training included suicide prevention skills, which were requested by the community. We concluded the day at The Vanadzor Children’s Home, a heartwarming experience where the children were all incredibly curious and friendly. We met with 38 children from ages 2 to 19, bringing them many donations including toys, crayons, clothes, and flower remedies for emotional healing.

We started Day 8 with a meeting at UCom in order to secure a phone line for the suicide prevention lifeline. We continued our day at the APAGA Center for Psychological Services, where over 65 volunteers gathered for training on the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. There was a heated discussion regarding domestic violence, which is an ongoing challenge in Armenia. Unfortunately, about 60% of the volunteers had seen or experienced domestic violence, which is very much a part of the ‘culture’ in Armenia. We challenged the volunteers to think about their own health and not “what others will talk about.” Societal peer pressure governs decisions to stay in an unhealthy and abusive family, and we encouraged them to make a change. A male participant asked curiously, “So are you saying that the choice is divorce? And what about family values?” We reinforced that family values need to be protected by both partners, without expecting that the women have to suffer domestic violence to keep the family together.

Day 9 began in Gyumri, the second largest city in Armenia, in the Shirak province, where we had a productive morning at Shirak State University. Sixty students of psychology and sociology, along with faculty and deans participated in our workshop. They learned about the five different types of trauma as well as the 7 Step Integrative Healing Model. When asked about what worried them, a majority shared that they worried about the political unrest in Syria and the economy in Armenia. Afterward, we conducted a training for INTRA-PSY-CLUB, an association for psychologists, and another training for the young female members of the Nor Luyce program, where they receive mentorship, counseling, and real-life skills. We concluded our day with a visit to Our Lady of Armenia children’s orphanage and technical school. We had a special visit with the orphans there, during which we taught them about lifting each other up from distress through our campaign “Lift one another up, and don’t be a crab in the bucket.”

We began Day 10 at the Ministry of Emergency Services. After being greeted with a very warm welcome by Haykuhi Gharibyan, Dean of the Academy of the Ministry of Emergency Services, we met the Major General Matevosyan of the Academy. We then conducted a workshop with over 55 participants, which covered various types of trauma, the 7 Step Integrative Healing Model, and suicide prevention.

We accomplished a great deal in 11 days. We directly reached 575 people and indirectly reached over 2,000 people. We conducted 19 trainings in three different cities and collaborated with three ministries, one high school, six NGO’s, and two orphanages. We received touching feedback from various participants who called us “true angels,” striving to change the world through our work. It is heartwarming to see people open their hearts and show affection after our trainings, hugging as if they do not want to let us go. We must mention how the beauty of Armenia itself is heartwarming, truly unique, welcoming, and feels like a home away from home. As Nanar said, “Armenia is a feeling, not a place,” while Justina added, “Armenia feels like it is a country out of a fairytale. It is hard not to fall in love with Armenia.” Everyone we met and collaborated with was so wonderful, welcoming, insightful, and intelligent. It was truly a blessing to have the opportunity to serve and work in Armenia. We were delighted to be able to sponsor three orphaned children, Nune, Vachagan, and Hovhannes.

Special gratitude to our collaborators in Armenia: Dr. Hrant Avanesyan, Karen Gargaryan, Lara Abrahamyan, Dr. Gevork Poghosyan, Gevork Manoukian, Dr. Khachig Gasparyan, Shogher Mikaelyan, Kristina Baghdasaryan, Sister Serpouhi, Nayra Avedikyan, Kristina Torosyan, Tatevik Arakelyan, Karen Ayvazyan, Haykuhi Karibyan, Lilia Abrahamyan, Hayrabed Keheyan, Arevik Yeritsyan, UCom, and all other volunteers who will be helping on the suicide lifeline.

A warm, heartfelt gratitude to our team: Dr. Ani Kalayjian, Dr. Justina Medina, and Nanar Nakashian, as well as to all our collaborators and donors.

Remember: When one helps another, both become stronger.