Logo for the Center for Victims of Torture
Notes from the Ground

Commemoration of World Mental Health Day 2021- CVT Tigray

Published November 4, 2021
A group of people with arms raised.

Authored by CVT Ethiopia-Tigray staff: Medhanye Alem, psychotherapist/trainer, Frezgi Gebrekristos, EQUIP focus person, Berihu Hadgu, counseling supervisor, and Bereket Tadesse, zonal manager

CVT Ethiopia staff in Tigray commemorated World Mental Health Day with a theme for the year: Mental Health in an Unequal World — a reminder that there is inequality in mental health investments. This inequality results in lack of access to mental health services and a treatment gap. Moreover, it creates negative impacts on community awareness and perceptions regarding mental health and mental health conditions.

Different activities were conducted to celebrate the event in the internally displaced persons (IDP) sites, including keynote speeches by CVT trainers, broadcasted messages on mental health and social stigma, question-and-answer (Q&A) competitions, poems, hanging banners, brochure and t-shirt distributions, and introductions to CVT services. In addition, a panel discussion was held with different stakeholders.

Despite the dire situation in the region with communication blackouts, limitations of resources following the closure of banking services and uncertainties over the crisis, CVT staff showed unconditional motivation and energy to commemorate the event.

CVT in partnership with the International Medical Corps (IMC) invited implementing partners from the mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) technical working group, IDP leadership, representatives from the zonal administration and from the regional health bureau, religious leaders and health sectors for a panel discussion. Facilitators presented the rationale for commemorating the event and led discussions on why there is inequality in mental health investments compared to other health sectors. They also discussed ways to act together to address the inequality and help people access good mental health care.

Here are activities that took place in several of our Tigray locations:

Mai-Tsebri (UNICEF): CVT commemorated World Mental Health Day in Mai-Tsebri with IDPs. International Humanitarian Services (IHS), International Rescue Committee (IRC) community workers and IDP community representatives shared responsibilities and took part in the commemoration. CVT staff went to the site and hung banners, one in the entrance and the second in front of the place allocated for the commemoration. The staff arranged the stage including the speakers, and then they welcomed guests and distributed brochures while everyone took their seats.

The opening speech was delivered by the counseling supervisor, who explained the rationale behind commemorating the day, and shared some facts about mental health and mental health stigma in addition to the theme of the year. The participants applauded in acceptance of the messages. A prerecorded poem written by Mulualem Fisseha, CVT interpreter and cultural liaison, gave courage and motivation to the audience, and they requested to replay it.

We observed glimpses of smiles, laughter and a long applause from the audience. In that moment, as CVT staff, it was a pleasure and rewarding to observe and share some moments of happiness with the crisis-affected people. Moreover, the counselors presented detailed tips on mental health and CVT services. Big Shoe and Q&A competitions were conducted and the IDP representatives delivered prizes to the winners. Furthermore, the IDP representative made a speech and said, “CVT is one of the strongest organizations, an organization that stands for us, gives us hope and dignity and helps us to be strong psychologically. We are proud of you [pointing to staff members]. I know this year is extremely difficult to all of us including for CVT workers; however, they use the energy they have left to support our people from the very beginning.”

Lastly, Haftay, CVT counseling supervisor, extended heartfelt gratitude to all the participants, representatives, IHS and IRC community workers for their effort and participations. 853 participants are estimated to have taken part in the commemoration.

Emba-Danso IDP site: The staff departed from CVT’s office in Shire to Tsehaye IDP site, loading all materials required for the commemoration arranged for later that afternoon. However, when staff arrived at Tsehaye, there was a mass community meeting, and the team realized how challenging it would be to host the commemoration as planned. We had a discussion and headed to Emaba-Danso IDP site instead. The flexibility and team spirit staff demonstrated was phenomenal. Once we arrived at Emba-Danso, the team worked to gather a huge crowd to be part of the event during the cloudy weather and breathtaking sunset, which was accompanied by drizzles of rain.

Among our different activities, the Q&A competition was catchy and all eyes were on the two competitors who refused to surrender to one another. One of the competitors was a CVT client who had been receiving a psychiatric care and who had attended TRW sessions. He put the knowledge he had learned to good use and finally won, receiving a solar torch. In addition, the message that was transferred about convulsion disorder, or epilepsy, was found to be helpful since we have a number of clients with epilepsy who have experienced discrimination. They had been requesting that CVT pass along a message to the community by any means possible that epilepsy is not contagious.

Tsehaye IDP site: The postponed event was held and a priest from the audience stood to convey a message on the event, saying, “Mentally ill people were not cursed by God, and it does not mean they have sinned or been possessed by an evil spirit. However, they are locked up in homes, chained and alienated from the rest of the society. I, myself, have a son who was a third-year university student but is now bedridden out of depression. I have also been through similar situations but healed through professional support and holy water. Mental illness is curable psychologically, medically and at the same time religiously through the holy water.” The message that science and religion are not contradictory, but rather complementary, was very powerful and supportive to the community, especially hearing it from a priest.  This is indicative of the work that the CVT team has done to engage and provide psychoeducation to the religious leaders in the IDP community.

Shire High School IDP site: CVT staff were ready and so excited for the commemoration. We arrived at the school on time with all our materials. People in the site were happy to see us there as usual. We began to set up our materials and then people started to gather in dozens. All of a sudden, unexpectedly, it started to rain and people dispersed. We all were uncertain what was going to happen. When the rain stopped, however, as many or maybe even more people gathered again – some with their umbrellas. We understood how happy they were to learn something new from the program. Eventually, they showed up in the hundreds.

An epileptic CVT client was one of those who volunteered to sit for the Q&A competitions. However, the audience claimed him as insane and said that he should not be in the competition. However, he was allowed by the MC, and responded to all questions correctly and won the prize! The client received a radio – the prize for first place. Towards the end of the program, he asked to speak and said; “Today is my day! I have experienced difficult and stressful environments for years. I developed a seizure following a brain injury. I am not insane or possessed by the devil. Why are you rejecting me? Why are you treating me like that? Why am I insulted? The world is supporting us and you all should stop the discriminations, insults and hatred. Thank you.” A huge round of applause followed his speech from the crowd.

Fre-Siwuat IDP site: A man with a physical disability resulting from a traumatic experience witnessed our sharing about CVT services during the commemoration. He said, “I am one of those who benefited from CVT services, especially the workshop on trauma. I have seen improvements in my functionality and have seen a lot of people progress positively. In short, I would say CVT is a ‘public organization.’”

Five Angels IDP site: The World Mental Health Day commemoration in Five Angels IDP site was unique by virtue of the high number of children and adolescents, and it was celebrated in a green area. During the day, a 17-year-old adolescent with a minor disability won the first prize, competing with adults in the Q&A competition. The event made the children feel happy and aware of International Mental Health Day as well as the availability of CVT services in the IDP site, even if the site is far from the town of Shire compared to other sites.

Taba-Woyane Tsinat IDP site:  A 40-year-old woman who won the Q&A competition during the World Mental Health Day commemoration gave her witness about CVT services as follows: “The first time I learned about CVT was at Axum University IDP site. I, as a displaced person, attended the psychoeducation at that time and now contribute by informing affected people to get the services provided by CVT, especially women to benefit from the counseling services. The message that I would like to share is that CVT was with us during the testing time at Axum University in Shire IDP site and now in this [Taba Woyane] IDP site. Thank you, CVT.”

Adi-Wonfito IDP site:

A 17-year-old CVT client won the Q&A competition here on World Mental Health Day. She is a minor and head of the family. She has two brothers separated from the family and a bedridden, diabetic mother. She is the only child in the house and responsible to cook and clean and to feed her mother, follow up on her medications and accompany her for medical appointments. The mother’s health complications were worsened after losing her all property and being unable to afford to feed herself with supplementary foods that support her medications and her family.

The economic and social burdens overwhelmed the minor client, who attempted suicide, but she regained hope after receiving CVT’s support. Seeing her participate in the commemoration, engage with others, and use the knowledge she gained through attending sessions with CVT to win the competition gave the CVT staff much pride in her progress.

Share this Article

Related Articles