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Dr Hankir and Andy Thomas, an AMPH (approved mental health practitioner) recently visited Wilson's to give a talk.

Last week, we were fortunate enough to hear from Andy Thomas, an approved mental health professional (AMHP), speak about the nature of his role and how he works alongside doctors to support patients with serious mental health disorders. He described his involvement in the assessment of patients that can ultimately result in their detainment for an extended period (between 28 days and 6 months) to protect the public, their close ones and/or themselves: indeed, only a high court judge has the power to detain an individual for a longer period of time. Andy conveyed the stress that comes with this degree of responsibility, but also emphasised the privilege of supporting vulnerable patients and coordinating their care at their time of most need. He also spoke of the societal injustices faced by those suffering with mental health disorders and the importance of empathy. Andy helped to highlight the need to grow as a person through experience, rather than just academically.

The Chronicles of The Wounded Healer
By Nabeel Abdul Rasheed (12SJW)

As far as life stories go, that of Dr Ahmed Hankir (known to the world as ‘The Wounded Healer’) enters a completely new category of extraordinary. At the age of 17, he was forced to leave his family behind in Lebanon, a country then ravaged by poverty and unemployment in the aftermath of a vicious 15-year civil war. Arriving in England, he took solace in the belief that the country’s academic community would “embrace” him for his ability; he would “waltz” into university, having graduated top of his school in Lebanon. The reality could not be any more different. With his qualifications unrecognised, Hankir ended up cleaning floors and stacking shelves for 70 hours a week on minimum wage simply to survive. His school life too was anything but straightforward: when he told the Director of Sixth Form about his ambition to become a doctor, she laughed in his face. “It’s too difficult”, she sneered. “You’ll never get in.” Against all odds, fighting to disprove the Director’s doubts and balancing full-time work with his education, Hankir achieved straight A’s in his A-Levels and secured a place to study medicine at the University of Manchester.

One morning during his third year at medical school, Hankir woke up to the kind of news that no one ever wishes to hear in their life. His hometown in Lebanon had been bombed. Unable to contact his family (who had been evacuated, unbeknown to him) and fearing the worst, Hankir developed what he now describes as a “severe and debilitating mental episode”. As damaging as the symptoms were, the stigma was far worse. Dr Hankir recalls being “shunned” and “dehumanised” by those around him, even by those he once believed to be his closest friends. As his hopes continued to dwindle, he contemplated suicide but was kept afloat by his Islamic faith (which prohibits taking one’s own life). Hankir sought help from the imam (Muslim leader) at his local mosque who urged him to consult an NHS psychiatrist. Here, he received life-saving treatment and slowly but surely recovered from the despair that had threatened to consume him. To this day, Dr Hankir still reflects on how “utterly beholden we are to the power and mercy of our minds”.

Over the last few years, Dr Hankir has made it his mission to dignify and empower those who experience mental health difficulties. He has already delivered his anti-stigma programme ‘The Wounded Healer’ to over 75,000 people in 19 countries worldwide. When he stands in front of aspiring medics like myself (as he did last week), he speaks with an authenticity and fiery passion worthy of any stage. His stellar collection of awards includes the Royal College of Psychiatrists Foundation Doctor and Core Psychiatry Trainee of the Year Awards, which mark the highest level of achievement in psychiatry in the UK. But what truly distinguishes Dr Hankir from all others is his ability to convey his message in such a deeply resonating way, particularly through anecdote. Every twist to his remarkable tale comes with its own wave of emotions, veering sharply between sorrow for his struggles, outrage at injustice and Islamophobia, and joy for his countless triumphs. If ever you need a spark of inspiration, Dr Hankir’s story, retold in his words as part of the PSI Annual Conference 2020 on YouTube, is certainly the one to watch.

Wilson’s School

A boys’ grammar school in the London Borough of Sutton (UK), Wilson’s School is:

  • committed to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people and expects all staff and volunteers to share this commitment
  • a charitable company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales (no. 7536970). Registered office: Mollison Drive, Wallington, Surrey SM6 9JW
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