Arnaud Goulliart serves as the Director of the Prevention and Promotion of Mental Health Department at the ARHM Public Utility Foundation. He has been a public health professional for over 15 years, developing numerous initiatives to reduce health inequalities. Passionate about innovation, he often ventures off the beaten path to discover new ideas.
I met him at his work at the ARHM foundation within the Centre Hospitalier Saint Jean de Dieu in Lyon, to discover the Mental Health Ambassadors program, which began in 2019 and targets young people.
What is the moment you realized you had mental health ?
I had my first encounter with my own mental health during my medical studies—a time marked by escalating stress and the loneliness of incessant work. It was undoubtedly one of the most challenging periods I've mentally endured. I found myself reaching out for psychological support and, in the process, uncovered the benefits of active listening. This phase brought home the importance of taking care of my mental health on a daily basis, maintaining a real balance between mentally taxing times and those that are genuinely rejuvenating.
What is the problem you wanted to solve in terms of mental health in France ?
I truly delved into the realm of mental health in 2018 when I took up my current role. Like many others, my initial perspective of mental health was predominantly medical, especially since our office is based within a psychiatric hospital. Back then, our efforts were primarily focused on managing mental health risks, from preventing suicide to mitigating risky behaviors among the youth and combating radicalization.
"It's quite fascinating to see that mental health is a field largely neglected almost everywhere and that many often isolated players innovate to meet social needs."
Then I did a lot of research to better understand the issue, as well as the existing and effective solutions around the world. It's quite fascinating to see that mental health is a field largely neglected almost everywhere and that many often isolated players innovate to meet social needs. While many effective actions exist, they struggle to gain recognition and adoption. We faced numerous challenges that inspired us to go beyond our limits and pioneer new solutions.
Working in prevention, financial issues are always a concern. Securing funding and ensuring the longevity of effective initiatives is an ongoing battle. Unlike the healthcare or medical-social action sectors, we don't have the luxury of automatically renewed funding. Resources are scarce, and a high degree of creativity is required to make our actions viable. This can often lead to frustration and exhaustion. Moreover, mental health is frequently tackled with the same old, tired approaches.
"It's very difficult to make people understand that the most critical factors influencing mental health are social, educational, environmental, and not just a matter of how your brain functions."
Mental health is also often approached with the same old solutions. We continue to believe that expanding access to healthcare is the only viable solution. It's very difficult to make people understand that the most critical factors influencing mental health are social, educational, environmental, and not just a matter of how your brain functions.
What is your proposed solution to solve this problem ?
Back in 2018, we were grappling with a significant financial challenge, and our organization was on shaky ground. We heavily relied on public subsidies, and our economic model lacked diversity. Together, we brainstormed to find solutions. We needed to set ourselves apart by offering unique, innovative actions and diversifying our economic model, while ensuring alignment with our collective mission.
Around this time, we launched the Mental Health Ambassadors project. The idea was to train and support young volunteers to work with other youngsters in the field of mental health. We put this model to the test, and an extensive review of literature helped shape the project. We were struck by these young people's capacity to assume the ambassador role and the impactful results of their actions. This project also allowed us to diversify our economic model by securing private funds and involving young volunteers. Since then, we have kicked off more ground-breaking solutions in mental health through scientific and international partnerships. And to give you a few figures, our mental health ambassadors have already supported over 9500 young people in nearly 100 organizations. About 80% of these young beneficiaries reported that the ambassadors helped them improve their self-image and self-confidence, and almost 90% of them said they had gained knowledge about mental health following the interventions.
What are your plans for the future ?
Building future plans in such an uncertain context is incredibly challenging! I've created plans in the past, only to spend most of my time chasing set objectives. Needs change swiftly, and opportunities crop up regularly. I currently work with a clear vision of our purpose and what we aim to improve while progressively assembling complementary solutions. We often switch gears, altering our course when results don't live up to expectations or when circumstances present a golden opportunity. Right now, I'm deeply concerned about mitigating social isolation among populations. It's an aspect of mental health that doesn't receive enough attention, particularly in our country. Especially among the youth and vulnerable people, there are numerous warning signs. It's crucial to not only understand this phenomenon better but also identify effective measures. Internationally, many scientists are rallying, and local initiatives are sprouting to strengthen social ties. There's a long road ahead for France on this matter.
Is there an artistic work, or someone inspiring that had a positive impact on your mental health ?
I am captivated by the work of painter Edward Hopper—it resonates profoundly with me. I especially admire the painting "Nighthawks," with its characters clustered around a bar in the dead of night. I often wonder about the thoughts that might occupy these solitary individuals, lost in their own world in this frozen moment. Edward Hopper's art is melancholic yet modern. Simultaneously, light permeates the scenes, suggesting a defiance of the established order.
What is the best way to contact you ?
Interviewed by Thomas Cantaloup, on March 03, 2023
Photo credits : Thomas Cantaloup