Hunger, conflict and natural disasters can have a huge impact on people’s mental health, particularly in the world’s most vulnerable communities.
In the countries where we work, people can face multiple crises at the same time and often have to deal with the threat of hunger and disease.
Mental health problems such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety are common.
Maternal mental health
Humanitarian emergencies, such as conflict and natural disasters, expose young children to the risks of malnutrition, illness and delayed development.
Undernutrition has multiple causes, including mental health and wellbeing and the quality of care provided to pregnant women and young children.
This means maternal mental health plays an important role in child health and development.
Research shows that maternal depression often leads to poor immunisation rates, minimal hospital visits and a decrease in breastfeeding. These can contribute to higher rates of child illness and have a negative effect on a child’s development.
A mother's mental health is key
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.
Baby Friendly Spaces
To respond to the physical and mental health needs of mothers and children, we’ve developed the Baby Friendly Spaces programme. The spaces support pregnant women and caretakers of children under 2 and are part of our programmes for South Sudanese refugees living in Ethiopia’s Gambella region. The project aims to provide psychological support to mothers and care practices for young children, including breastfeeding, early childhood development and nutrition advice.
Our staff encourage child play and activities to strengthen family bonds and child development. It also builds parenting skills and supports mothers through group discussions to allow them to manage feelings of stress and strengthen their ability to care for their children.
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.
People living in countries with ongoing conflicts are often forced to flee their homes, have limited work opportunities and struggle to get the food they need.
Following violence in Myanmar in August 2017, the largest influx of Rohingya refugees to date, crossed the border into Bangladesh. An estimated 615,500 refugees are still living in cramped conditions in Cox’s Bazar.
For Rohingya refugee families living in ‘mega camps’ in Bangladesh, the trauma of displacement, and the impact of the brutal military crackdown, stays with them.
Many refugees have engaged with our stress management sessions and received one-to-one and group sessions focused on coping with memories of the violence.
Fighting in countries like Yemen and Syria have made the humanitarian crises in the Middle East worse than ever. At the start of 2020, 42 million people across the region were in need of urgent help. Now the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating an already fragile situation.
In conflict-scarred regions or in emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic, it’s essential that mental health care services give people the best chance to rebuild their lives, find work, earn a living and support their families.
To continue helping families who are overwhelmed by the realities of the pandemic in the Middle East, we adapted our face-to-face operations to provide mental health support through phone calls.
50-year-old Hala from Mosul, Iraq, lives in a camp for internally displaced people. Like many other people forced to leave Mosul since 2017, she has gone through many traumatic experiences.
Hala has been in therapy with an Action Against Hunger psychologist after she lost her family in an explosion.
“I turned around and saw white smoke rising from our house. I ran back to find that our house was destroyed with entire family inside.”
Hala’s lowest point came when she started wishing that her life would end. This is when she took the opportunity to take therapy sessions, which have helped her slowly feel herself again.
Rising temperatures and extreme weather are having a huge impact on already vulnerable communities.