DSS Champion Justyna Maslanka
08 Sep, 2023
For Justyna Maslanka, a difficult personal experience has turned into a professional role where she can help others overcome their own trauma.
Originally from Poznan in Poland, Justyna is one of the champions of the Decision Support Service (DSS), a new string to her bow given she already works as a mental health advocate with Cairde and others. The drive to assist others is rooted, however, in some troubling times of her own.
According to Justyna, it was in 2009 that she experienced the first symptoms of depression and panic attacks. "I was admitted to the hospital three times," she says. "At the time I had stopped eating properly and did not sleep well. At the time I had been working hard on a full-time job and had one part-time night job [as well].
"I had a long-term stress from childhood, and I didn't realise that it (had) become mental health difficulties. I have realised that I had to make decisions and develop big changes in my life. I changed the priority and values of everything in my life. I studied a different course in college, I work and I am active through yoga, the gym, and culture."
It is this personal insight into a sense of powerlessness, no matter how temporary, which led Justyna to her work as a mental health advocate for ethnic and minority groups. She has also participated in the National Implementation and Monitoring Committee (NIMC), which is collectively responsible for driving and overseeing the long-term implementation of the national mental health policy.
"My clients have a barrier of language and there is a barrier of culture, but also the disability barriers," Justyna says. "I think that people need more information about the DSS and to trust it."
Justyna's methods of advocating for others is anchored in listening, often with a tea or coffee to hand. It involves building trust - something she says can be hard to achieve for people in their broader interactions with state services, particularly if they have a disability and a language barrier. Again, she sees the DSS as an important option for people, a mechanism to help them through what can be a tough time.
"Also, any information about the DSS should be provided and be understood in different languages," she says. "All community centres, any organisations and other services should provide information about the DSS to make it known to people and to build trust, but also to be able to support and engage them to DSS.
"I think there are plenty [of] people who will need the DSS support," Justyna says, adding: "They just need time to learn about it and accept it."
To learn a little bit more about Justyna, please watch a short video at this link.