10 October, 2015 - CBM Australia
World Mental Health Day is on October 10, and works to raise public awareness of mental health issues worldwide. It helps promote discussion around mental illness, as well as the need to invest in prevention and treatments.
CBM Australia’s West Africa programme officer, Teresa Lee, shares in this blog answers to some of the questions around CBM’s mental health work in some of the poorest communities, breaking down barriers and promoting accessible mental health services to people in poverty.
Good psychosocial health is essential for the well-being and functioning of individuals, families, communities and societies. 25% of people have a mental health problem at some stage in their life. The disabilities arising from mental health problems are called ‘psychosocial disabilities’ and include conditions such as depression, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, suicide, epilepsy, dementia, alcohol and substance use disorders. Psychosocial disabilities are a leading cause of disability worldwide.
Post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychosocial disabilities can also leave their impact on post-disaster communities long after the emergency is over.
Q. What are some of the challenges faced in low-income countries in responding to mental health problems?
The impact of these disorders in developing countries is large, mostly due to the prejudice and discrimination of people with psychosocial disabilities and the extremely limited availability of mental health services and resources.
For example, Nigeria has only 160 psychiatrists for 160 million people, and Sierra Leone has only one retired psychiatrist for six million people!
People with psychosocial disabilities may be ‘invisible’ and excluded from participating in community life, school and work. This is exacerbated in developing countries due to lack of education and persistent beliefs about people with mental disabilities being ‘cursed’. Moreover, people who suffer from the stigma of psychosocial disabilities need protection because they are more likely to experience violation of their human rights.
Q. What is CBM doing to address mental health?
CBM has a number of projects aimed at increasing mental health services and improving the quality of life for people with psychosocial disability.
CBM’s work in mental health includes:
- working with the World Health Organisation to develop toolkits,
- developing and mobilising groups to advocate for people with psychosocial disabilities,
- improving mental health services at national and local levels,
- training healthcare workers in mental health to be able to provide better services, and
- conducting awareness-raising activities to combat stigma.
CBM also has a strong focus on community mental health services:
- Education – knowledge helps to strengthen the patient’s position within the community; it also reduces the risk of recurrence of the disability by increasing awareness of the condition and preventative measures.
- Medication – a combination of medication and psychotherapy is often an effective way to treat psychosocial disabilities.
- Family support – because feeling connected to people during one’s daily life enhances everyone’s ability to surmount the stress that might trigger depression. Similarly, supportive network groups for vulnerable people are an effective method of prevention.
- Practical advice on matters such as community reintegration, empowerment and self-help groups can be beneficial.
- Livelihood development – the onset of psychosocial disabilities is often associated with the loss of a stable income. By focusing on livelihood development as one aspect of community inclusion, CBM empowers the person to become an active part of their families, communities and society at large
Q. How is CBM’s work making a difference?
CBM’s work is having a significant impact. Across West Africa, CBM has contributed to governments giving greater attention to mental health issues and implementing mental health policy. For example, in Ghana, stakeholder groups supported by CBM have influenced the passage of the Mental Health law and the subsequent establishment of the Mental Health Authority by the government. In Nigeria, Benue State, primary health care workers have been trained in the majority of local government areas and over 9000 clients have been accessing mental health services across the state.
Emmanuel*, a 30 year old man with epilepsy, has accessed treatment and opportunities through the program. His family thought his first seizure at 12 years was related to witchcraft, and unsuccessfully tried traditional rituals and healing. He later accessed more adequate care and the seizures were controlled, but the medication was very costly and his seizures returned as soon as he stopped taking his medication.
This year, Emmanuel started accessing services at a local clinic set up by CBM’s partner project.
Emmanuel’s seizures are now controlled and he has become the chairman of a self-help group developed through the clinic. These groups bring together patients and caregivers to provide peer support and counselling, training on leadership and business development, and provide grants for members through a loan scheme.
This has assisted Emmanuel to farm and sell some of his produce, enabling him to pay for his treatment.
*Name has been changed