I am sitting in a McDonalds in Schiphol Airport thinking about a woman I met once a year ago. Her name was Sania Yau, and I learnt last night that she died in a car accident last December.
I’m on my way back home from a conference in The Hague, the World Hearing Voices Congress. My mind is a jumble of names, faces and stories and the tiredness has seeped into my bones. And all I can think about is Sania.
Sania was the Chief Executive of New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, in Hong Kong, an organisation dedicated to supporting people with psychosocial disabilities and developing community mental health services. She and her team came to visit me in London to find out more about our Hearing Voices work. I found her fiercely intelligent, precise, and passionate. Kind. Warm. In my meeting with her, and in subsequent email conversations, she gave me an opening into what was happening in mental health in Hong Kong and what the challenges were. I was excited about the possibilities, and wanted to learn more and support New Life in some way.
“She died. You didn’t know, did you. I’m so sorry.”
I learnt of her death from her gentle, bereaved colleagues.
We lose too many people in this work. Some people die before their time because of the horrors they experience before and during their encounters with the mental health system. Some people burn out, others are burnt. Sania died in a car accident, an everyday death in so many ways. I am sick of losing people. I am sick of violence.
I don’t know how many people in the UK had met Sania. She was someone who did the work, instead of speaking about it. I think that’s one of the reasons her colleagues grieve her.
Sometimes you only meet someone once, and they touch you. The ripples of our presence, our work, our words go far beyond what we imagine. At times, I am consumed with the pointlessness of it all, that we are all just talking past each other and no one is being seen. I think Sania saw people.
I tend to find World Hearing Voices Congresses engaging, emotional, frustrating at times. Now, when I think of this year’s Congress, I will think of Sania, who wasn’t there.
Akiko Hart is the Chair of ISPS UK, a Committee Member of the English Hearing Voices Network and the Hearing Voices Project Manager at Mind in Camden. She has previously worked as the Director of Mental Health Europe, and has a keen interest in the differences and overlaps in mental health provision in different national and cultural settings.