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Notes from the Ground

CVT as Mental Health Ambassadors on World Mental Health Day

Published November 23, 2020
Watercolor painting of a man holding his head.

Authors Wahba Hassanein, Ph.D., psychotherapist/trainer, and Tet Puok Duel, counseling supervisor, are with CVT Ethiopia-Gambella.

It is not easy to talk about mental health in Ethiopia’s Nguenyyiel camp, despite the fact that experiences of conflict and displacement mean that many people need mental health services. The question is: why it is not easy?

The answer comes from one client, “I didn’t know there was a doctor (clinician) that could help me with my bad thoughts and the bad things in my mind.”

So World Mental Health Day on 10 October is a special commemoration when we take the opportunity to announce that, Yes, what comes to your mind and is bothering you can be treated.

We do this by walking through the camp and sharing the word directly with the community. When we started the march in the camp, especially when we used recorded messages to increase awareness by sharing simple information about mental health, the people in the community were looking to us with curiosity, and approached to ask more about what we could do at the CVT healing center. The song that we created and recorded in the local Nuer language was our ambassador to speak about hope in the camp.

Our CVT Gambella team has been working more than two years to increase awareness here. Due to the transient nature of the population in the camp, the community is always changing. We consider this an opportunity to work with more clients, increasing awareness about mental health.

We believe that if we succeed in passing the message that the pain that comes to your mind can be treated, and that mental health is like physical health, this could save several lives.

The interesting point during the commemoration is how much our refugee incentive workers are motivated and believe in what they are doing. This reflects the importance of CVT’s investment to build capacity inside the refugee community through our dedicated training and supervision for our incentive workers.

When we met one of our clients during the commemoration activities in the camp, she seemed proud of what we were doing, and encouraged the team to move on, showing her feeling of belonging to this entity even in the face of common stigma against mental health. We felt the appreciation of the community – we were even joined in our efforts during the march when some children wanted to help us hang the banner. They were happy to walk with us in the camp.

The main theme for this year is giving hope, and this is what we are keen to include in all our activities. Our message for this year is “When problems cover you like rain, look for the rainbow. When darkness covers you, look for stars.” Our second message is “Stop mental health stigma.”

We are aiming to make mental health a familiar term to all the population through our activities in our camp healing center and in the local community.

We also targeted the host community population with messages this year. While celebrating and providing awareness in the community, you find that it is very difficult for community members to talk about mental health due to myths and misconceptions and low mental health awareness.

That is why people with a mental health condition are highly stigmatized and ignored. The common way of taking care of people with severe mental health conditions (usually psychosis) is to keep to them tied at home to prevent them from harming themselves or others. For individuals who are experiencing depressed mood and social withdrawal, there is shame in showing these symptoms in the community, even if it is due to traumatic events. So the neighbors will not address it; they will just go to clients’ homes to take them to the daily activities , which can end with some suicidal cases because there is no space or opportunity to speak out about that. This is a very sad result of the lack of awareness about treatment and the possibility of stabilization and recovery.

CVT is committed to working on raising mental health awareness in the community to overcome the stigma and negative attitudes about mental health conditions, and the myths about mental illness, so that people will be able to talk about it everywhere and get appropriate support.

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