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Working in Caritas, a worldwide Catholic humanitarian organization

Interview with Signe Lykkegaard, a specialist in psychiatry


Caritas International is a worldwide Catholic humanitarian organization founded in 1947 with 162 member-organizations. One of them, Caritas Denmark, has a health clinic offering free medical help to all.

The work comprises several activities and from 2021 one of them is the medical clinic that is situated in the medical practice of a general practitioner in Copenhagen. This clinic provides free basic medical help to persons who have met challenges in using the public health system or who are socially marginalized. The clinic has a very flexible approach and helps persons navigate better in the available health system. The clinic is run by doctors, nurses and hosts, all working voluntarily. The clinic is open for all – both persons who have the yellow “health card” giving access to the Danish public health system and persons who may be illegally in the country and open for all irrespective of religious background. The clinic is open once a week for 3 hours and requires no booking in advance.

Signe Lykkegaard who herself is Catholic is a retired consultant in psychiatry who has worked in the clinic for about a year. She tells that initially the clinic was doubtful whether a psychiatrist was needed, but now there is a clear recognition of how a focus on mental health is important.

Why did you choose to join the clinic?

I have worked in the public system for many years and primarily with the most severely ill psychiatric patients and I felt that despite being recently retired I still have a wish to use my psychiatric training and helping persons with mental health problems. I respect the concept of the clinic and I have a great respect for the work of Caritas, but it is not because of my own religious background that I joined. It has more to do with a humanitarian wish to help vulnerable groups who may have difficulty in finding their way in the available public system.

Caritas Denmark aims to reduce vulnerability among persons in difficult life situations. Image by Caritas Europa.
Caritas Denmark aims to reduce vulnerability among persons in difficult life situations. Image by Caritas Europa.

What kind of persons are coming to you in the clinic?

I most frequently see foreigners who may not understand how the Danish health system works and how to get referred to adequate help. Some may not have the health card – and there may be several reasons for this. Some may have language difficulties. The number of persons coming vary a great deal, some days up to 5-7 persons come, other days very few.

Do you see yourself as an idealist?

It satisfies me that I can use my professional expertise in helping persons in a very vulnerable position and help to guide them in the use of the system. If they already have a general practitioner, I may contact the general practitioner in order to continue the treatment or refer to the psychiatric system. In other cases where no adequate help is available, I may take contact to the legal advisor in Caritas to find an alternative way to help the person.

I find that my training is a gift and that I want to give something back to anyone needing psychiatric help. I do believe that all human beings should be treated with respect irrespective of their background and that we are all unique. And in this respect it gives me satisfaction to help persons from other cultures to get help to alleviate their mental distress.

I would recommend others to join such kind of voluntary help work – and for pensioners it is a very satisfying way to use your knowledge and long experience.


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