On World Mental Health Day, a Call for Mental Health Care for Survivors of Torture | The Center for Victims of Torture

On World Mental Health Day, a Call for Mental Health Care for Survivors of Torture

Friday, October 9, 2015

The theme “Dignity in Mental Health” for World Mental Health Day 2015 couldn’t be more appropriate, for a time in history when the prevalence of refugee torture survivors living in the U.S. is at an all-time high, and there are more people fleeing their homes than ever before. Torture, war and human rights abuses aim to destroy a person’s dignity, to take away one’s sense of self. So many men and women I have had the privilege of working with have tried to explain the long-term mental health effects of their traumatic experiences. They will often tell you that the physical wounds heal, but the fact that another person has tried to take away what makes them human, what makes them feel like a person: this is the wound that lingers. CVT believes in supporting the dignity of our clients so intensely that it is written in our tag line: “Restoring the dignity of the human spirit.”

I have found that since I’ve left my field postings and began working at headquarters, this is the hardest feeling to connect with, sitting thousands of miles away in my office chair. I started working in the field of global mental health in a Malawian refugee camp in 2007, and came to work with CVT in Sierra Leone in 2009, and then Kenya in 2011. I spent five years living in African countries working with survivors of war, torture and sexual violence. It’s not hard to connect with the ideas of what war does to dignity when your bedroom overlooks a former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) torture site in Freetown. Now, back in the United States, I travel frequently to support our CVT programs, but I still feel removed. It is simple to look at numbers on paper. But feeling someone’s longing for dignity – to remember climbing down and sitting aside someone on the hot dusty floor of a hut in a refugee camp, facing the corner because they’re stinging with shame for what they have endured – that is harder to connect with, in my office chair. Perhaps you feel this way too?

This year’s theme “Dignity in Mental Health” gives us the opportunity to connect to those in need of mental health care, to support their dignity, but it is also a call to action. We must support the cause for providing access to quality mental health care to those who need it, and ensure that individuals have ownership over their feelings and themselves, are able to engage meaningfully in their lives, and no longer feel undignified, and disconnected from humanity. 

As mentioned in a letter to the editor last week, Curt Goering, CVT executive director, called for the need for rehabilitative services, like mental health care, to be included for the millions of refugees fleeing Syria and other conflicts. Including mental health care as a part of the world-wide humanitarian response is essential. 

For more information, and to connect with and support millions in their human dignity, find  the World Federation for Mental Health materials here and join the cause online via the hashtags #WMHDay and #WMHD2015.


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