Mental Health week 2018 - shining a light on Mental Health in Action Against Hunger programmes

Our Mental Health Week Manifesto

Shining a light on mental health and the importance of psychosocial support

By Emma Pomfret

May 11 2018

For Mental Health Awareness week, we will be shining a light on the vital work Action Against Hunger is doing to help vulnerable men, women and children with psychosocial support.

We will share their experiences with our work and the impact it has had on their lives.


Mental health ‘first aid’ might not be the first intervention to come to mind during humanitarian or protracted crises, but it is in fact a vital element of Action Against Hunger’s global fight against hunger and malnutrition.

Instead of being an after-thought or an add-on activity, we believe that it should always be one of the four essential pillars of any emergency response programme alongside nutritious food, clean water and adequate shelter.

During many crises, the most vulnerable people are often the hardest hit and least able to cope with traumatic shocks, having to survive conflict, violence, hygiene and malnutrition-related diseases, extreme weather events, insecurity, and displacement. These things all have a huge impact upon the mental health of individuals including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), sleeping disorders and behavioural problems.

“Psychological first aid must always be closely linked with nutrition programmes in large-scale emergencies – after all, if you are stressed and mentally disturbed you will not be able to eat, sleep or maintain a healthy life. It’s that simple,” explains Farhana Rahman Eshita, a clinical psychologist and mental health director at Action Against Hunger Bangladesh, who is currently coordinating counselling services for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled the on-going brutality in Myanmar.


“During a crisis many people experience or witness a lot of violence, which can easily lead to depression and anxiety, and can sometimes translate into violence against the family unit, themselves, or others. Stressful situations, such as living in a refugee camp with no clear end to the situation in sight, only exacerbates this, but counselling and psychological support provides an opportunity to discourage it.”


Mental Health and Health Care (MHHC) teams also have an essential role to play regarding the improvement of pregnant women and infant care practices during both emergencies and more prolonged, cyclical crises such as drought or food shortages. Many mothers-to-be, for example, find it very difficult or impossible to breastfeed following a major trauma or long-term stress, leading to sharp rises in severely acutely malnourished (SAM) cases.

Children play in an Action Against Hunger provided child friendly space in Bangladesh.
Children play at a child friendly space provided by Action Against Hunger. Thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar are now living in the huge refugee camp at Kutupalong, Bangladesh.

Hand in hand with physical nutrition interventions, tailored psychosocial and parenting programmes have been found to be very effective in the fight against hunger, and help to minimise the impact of traumatic events on vulnerable communities and individuals. For children, group and parent-child sessions help provide safe spaces for family relationships to blossom and for the child to develop fine motor skills.

Currently, more than three quarters of a million people have benefited from psychological support in 21 of the 49 countries in which Action Against Hunger is present. These include Haiti, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Sudan, Iraq, Colombia, Philippines, Congo-Brazaville, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Burundi, and the Central African Republic (CAR).

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Images: Tom Pilston for Action Against Hunger