Mental Health Awareness Week - Nepal aftermath

Mental Health After the Nepal Earthquakes

Psychological first aid is an essential part of Action Against Hunger's response during Emergencies 

By Action Against Hunger

May 14 2018

For Mental Health Awareness Week, we are shining a light on the vital work Action Against Hunger is doing to help Vulnerable Men, Women and Children with psychosocial support.

The role of Psychological First Aid in rebuilding Nepal

In November 2015, six months after Nepal suffered from two devastating earthquakes, killing almost 9,000 people and destroying or damaging almost 900,000 homes, we wrote about the mental health and counselling services we were providing families, like Samshana and her daughters. 

Three years on, we reflect on the impact Action Against Hunger’s mental health programmes have had on those who have had to rebuild their lives and find resilience following one of the most cataclysmic events one can imagine ever having to experience.

"Everybody needs water and everybody needs shelter, but when it comes to psychological support and personal issues, fear, trauma or the support they need, it is also more intimidating because it is an individual thing.” -  Shashwat Saraf, Action Against Hunger's Regional Director for Asia.


We asked Shashwat Saraf, Regional Director of Asia, what he felt the role that psychosocial support played in the emergency response to the Nepal Earthquake. 

“There was a need for psychological first aid, but we also created a safe environment. People were able to talk about losing their houses and the constant fear of having another earthquake. That fear had set in especially among children.” 

We worked directly with the communities affected, but in order to help thousands of people and make the programme scalable, Action Against Hunger trained teachers and health workers on how to provide psychosocial support. 

“By involving teachers and staff, you start to create an environment of strong awareness of the issue… because in many cultural contexts, it is seen as some kind of taboo.” 

But, of course, providing counselling to individuals that have suffered trauma will take its toll on the staff. This is why Action Against Hunger supports its staff and other international organisations providing similar services through Self-Care for Psychosocial Wellbeing workshops. Sujen Man Maharjan, Action Against Hunger's Roving Programme Manager in Mental Health and Care Practices, describes this workshop:

"We have organised workshops to help staff to increase their own awareness of resilience and coping processes, self-care practices as well as relaxation techniques. It's important our staff are well-protected so they can look after themselves while providing help to others, too."

As part of our Mental Health Awareness series this week, we are raising awareness of the long-term impact of trauma. It does not just impact the here-and-now but can have long-lasting detrimental effects on families. This is why Action Against Hunger incorporates Mental Health Care into other programmes that it runs, such as nutrition, water and sanitation programmes. Shashwat comments:  

“You can do some psychological first aid in the immediate aftermath of an emergency, but it is a longer-term process. Particularly with our nutrition work, we know that this trauma starts to affect breastfeeding and we see this as part of the cycle of malnutrition.” 


Nepal still has a long way to go to rebuild infrastructures and return to a sense of what normality was like before the earthquakes hit – as witnessed first-hand by our ambassadors, who trekked across Nepal and saw our programmes last month.  

But, in spite of everything they have suffered, our ambassadors commented on their resilience and ability to keep smiling. This thought was echoed by Shashwat: 

“You can have all of the numbers and data about the people you have counselled. But one thing that has stuck with me was when I spoke to a woman who had been through our counselling sessions. She said she wasn’t sure about the impact, but that she could sleep now. That stuck with me. The way she measured impact was that despite the trauma she suffered, the help we gave her helped her to sleep better.”  

Action Against Hunger has helped more than three quarters of a million people benefit from psychosocial support, across 21 countries. You can help us continue our work by fundraising, attending events or making a donation. Even sharing our message on social media with others will raise awareness of the importance mental health plays for people suffering from disaster and conflict around the world. 

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Images: Daniel Burgui Iguzkiza for Action Against Hunger