Mental health, at home and abroad

As humanitarian emergencies continue to unfold around the world, children are increasingly exposed to violence and other experiences that leave them in desperate need of psychological first aid. Meanwhile, across the globe one in ten of all mothers struggle with some form of post natal depression. In the UK an estimated 35,000 women fail to receive the help they need, and in the developing world, up to 40% of new mothers battle depression. This World Mental Health Day, World Vision’s Senior Health Adviser, Desiree Stewart, writes about the importance of recognising and treating mental health challenges, in the UK as well as in the developing world.


By Desiree Stewart, Senior Health Programmes Adviser, World Vision UK

Today is World Mental Health Day.

Did you know that 1 in 4 of us will be affected by a mental health condition in our lifetime? Even those of us who do not experience mental disorder, still face mental and emotional stressors in our everyday lives. When we hear mental health mentioned, we often jump to imagining severe mental health conditions that require the help of psychologists and long-term medications. But the World Health Organisation defines mental health as ‘a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.'

And while there are indeed serious mental health conditions deserving of attention, there is also a wider spectrum of psychological challenges experienced by boys, girls, men and women of all ages, all around the world. The need for love, support and respect is universal – and this is a significant part of what ‘mental health’ and ‘psychosocial support’ boil down to. Mental health is relevant for all of us.

Children attending a World Vision Child Friendly Space receive Psychological First Aid with their families, and other support.

Why is mental health relevant to World Vision in our work?

At World Vision we’re working in Syria, South Sudan, and other conflict hot spots, where traumatic experiences have been experienced by almost everyone. We also work in more stable countries like Kenya, Uganda, or Bangladesh where child abuse, domestic violence and post-natal depression are unfortunately common, but often fly below the radar. And that’s the thing with mental health – because it doesn’t tend to manifest itself physically, it often struggles to be recognised. Even in the UK, recent reports have shown that adolescents, men, and women are all struggling to receive the care they need.

This year’s Mental Health Day is focussing on Psychological First Aid, some of the most basic but crucial care that can be provided. For us, this often means training community health volunteers or women’s groups with the skills they need to provide a supportive and practical response to others in their community who are struggling with mental health. Often, psychological first aid is part of our initial responses in an emergency – helping children feel safe and process what they’ve experienced after an earthquake in Nepal, or fleeing conflict in South Sudan. Children tell us that psychological first aid helps them because they are listened to, can express themselves freely and be talked to in friendly ways.

Community Health Volunteers in Kenya create awareness about PM+ in the villages

Fighting Depression overseas

World Vision also helps women in more stable countries with a programme called Problem Management Plus (PM+). Through PM+ we’re working to educate women about managing stress and individual problems, and help them get going and keep doing, while making connections with others around them who can provide support. In Kenya, women like Grace, have found that the programme reduces their psychological stresses in a long-lasting way.

“My family and I were victims of the very bad post-election violence in 2007/2008. We were attacked at our home, and our home together with our business were completely destroyed and burned down. We were forced to run without anything but the clothes on our backs. We could not get any jobs. I became very stressed and developed high blood pressure.

“We eventually moved to where some of our extended family lived. Still I could not do much. I avoided being out with people and mostly stayed indoors. I slept most days and my house was cluttered and very dirty. I was always sick and I felt very hopeless. We could not afford anything including food for our children. That is the situation that World Vision found me in.

The PM+ gave me skills that I have used even after the community health volunteer finished coming for the sessions. My volunteer was very understanding; different from other counsellors I have met at the health facility where I am given only medication but barely talked to. During the sessions I was taught how to manage stress, manage my problems, how to interact with other people and encouraged to think of how to begin a small business to sustain myself and my family as we got back on our feet.

My blood pressure would still shoot up even as I was taking medications, but it has now stabilised and is normal. I opened a small grocery shop, which I run from outside the place I live. When my counsellor came back, she was so surprised to find my house clean and organised. I even carried a pregnancy to term with no problems and I delivered normally to a healthy boy. I am very happy. I have benefitted immensely from this project and my husband and children have benefitted too. I am able to cope better now with the challenges we have and I can look forward to the future with hope.”

A Community Health Volunteer is welcomed into a client’s home

At World Vision, I’m proud to say that mental health is an integrated part of much of our programming as we work with families, communities, and partners to ensure that children can lead lives free from fear and full of hope. You can find out more about our emergency and child sponsorship work here, on our website. And if you, or anyone you know, could use some support here in the UK, I’ve collated a short list of recommendations and charities who can help below.

You and your mental health needs

Closer to home, Young Minds, a UK charity that works with children and young people, gives the following helpful tips for looking after ourselves when it comes to our mental health:

    Need to talk?: Find organisations that listen and support
    Eat well, feel better: What we eat can affect how we feel
    Exercise: Proven to reduce impacts of stress, it’s good for your mental health as well as your physical health
    Help other people: Scientists have found that doing good for others helps us feel happier
    Believe in yourself: Finding support to help boost your self-esteem can improve relationships and your social life
    Take time out: Taking time to relax is an important part of maintaining good mental health
    Friends and family: If you’re feeling low, friends and family can be vital sources of support
    Ask for help: Most of us feel overwhelmed at times – it’s important to be able to reach out for support

There are many UK charities and organisations working around in the area of mental health that you can go to for support and information. Here are just a few of them:

Mental Health Foundation
020 7803 1101
Improving the lives of those with mental health problems or learning difficulties.

Together
020 7780 7300
Supports people through mental health services.

Depression Alliance
0845 123 2320
Provides information and support to those who are affected by depression via publications, supporter services and a network of self-help groups.

PANDAS Foundation
0843 28 98 401 (every day from 9am-8pm)
PANDAS Foundation vision is to support every individual with pre (antenatal), postnatal depression or postnatal psychosis in England, Wales and Scotland.

Mind
0300 123 3393
Exists to promote positive mental health.

Young Minds
020 7336 8445
Provides information and advice for anyone with concerns about the mental health of a child or young person.

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