Hunger, conflict and natural disasters can have a huge impact on people’s mental health, particularly in the world’s most vulnerable communities.
You can’t function as a human being if you’re struck down by trauma. If you’re suffering from mental health problems, you’re less likely to be able to earn money and eat well.
You’re also less likely to be able to look after yourself and those in your care. This can contribute to life-threatening hunger. So mental health care is not a ‘nice-to-have’ – it’s essential.
Hunger, conflict and natural disasters can have a huge impact on someone’s mental health. The day-in, day-out trauma, the fear of hunger, of death, of losing your family, builds up. It leaves scars. It’s debilitating. If unaddressed, it can be overwhelming.
Impact of maternal depression
Mental health work is part of our fight against hunger. It makes sense. Imagine the life of a mother living under the poverty line every single day, in a constant battle to feed her children and keep healthy herself.
Maternal mental health also plays a vital role in child health and development. The relationship is direct. It’s simple. It’s fundamental.
Research shows that maternal depression often leads to low child immunisation rates, reduced hospital visits and a decrease in breastfeeding. Infants of mothers with poor mental health have been found to have poorer physical, emotional, and mental skills, compared to other children.
Here and Now is a group of psychologists in Chernivtsi, western Ukraine, supported by Action Against Hunger. They give their time and expertise to help young mothers and their children cope with the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the country.
Karine Le Roche, mental health expert for Action Against Hunger, tells us why supporting mother's mental health is key to a child's cognitive development and their recovery from severe acute malnutrition.
The trauma of conflict
Around 142 million children live in conflict zones. Nearly one-fifth of people affected by conflict will need mental health support. One in 20 of those will develop a severe mental health disorder.
Mental health is a global issue. Take the example of the persecuted Rohingyas. Following violence in Myanmar in the summer of 2017, a huge number of Rohingya refugees crossed the border into Bangladesh. Today, more than 600,000 refugees are still living in dreadful, cramped conditions in Cox’s Bazar. This has a terrible impact on the mental health of refugees.
And in Yemen and Syria, fighting has made the already difficult humanitarian crises worse. At the start of 2020, 42 million people across the Middle East region needed urgent help. Living with daily conflict is bound to have an impact on one’s mental health.
In conflict-scarred regions or in emergencies, it’s vital that mental health care services give people the best chance to rebuild their lives, find work, earn a living and support their families.
What’s the solution?
We know that good mental health is vital to tackling life-threatening hunger. That’s why we focus hard on mental health care and psychosocial support as well as nutrition. We do this in many ways.
Baby friendly spaces
In our Baby Friendly Spaces, we help pregnant and breastfeeding women and their children in emergency situations. As well as serving as infant and young child feeding centres, we use them to provide psychosocial help to mothers and children.
Our trained teams of mental healthcare staff help families talk – to each other and with others – to process their common experiences. They also encourage children to play, to strengthen family bonds and to boost child development in fraught circumstances.
They also help build parenting skills, supporting mothers through group discussions to allow them to manage feelings of stress and strengthen their ability to care for their children. They are havens of calm.
We provide welcoming spaces: to give people a breathing space – a safe place away from the angst and conflict of a refugee camp. To relax and spend time with their children, space to breastfeed comfortably and privately, to get safe drinking water and handwashing facilities.
Our colleagues can also refer people to other specialist agencies for help – for vaccinations and antenatal care, for example.
Mary, is a psychosocial worker for Action Against Hunger in Gambella.
Part of Mary’s work is running group discussions with mothers at the Baby Friendly Spaces programme. She shares key messages on care practices and holds individual counselling sessions with the mothers who need it most.
So far almost 20,000 women and their children have benefited from our mental health support programmes in the region.
Outreach mental health teams
Our psychologists reach out to the community beyond the walls of their clinics. Taking mental healthcare to people helps break down barriers and is a way to catch people who are missed or hidden. It lowers the bar to making contact – vital when people are depressed and withdrawn or worried about stigma.
Our outreach teams provide group and individual therapy sessions, organise awareness campaigns in the community and train teachers and community leaders on psychological first aid and mental health awareness.
By addressing people’s mental health, we can help their physical wellbeing as well. And mental health support is fundamental to tackling malnutrition.
Hunger, conflict and natural disasters can have a huge impact on someone’s mental health. This proposition paper outlines the devastating effects of this and what Action Against Hunger is doing to combat it.
Even though the world produces enough food to feed the entire population, four out of ten people across the globe can’t afford a healthy diet. This proposition paper outlines the impact of food insecurity on more than 2 billion people worldwide and what Action Against Hunger is doing to combat it.