Mental Health in ZimbabweMental health is something that is often easy to overlook, especially if you come from a low-income background. The intersection of mental health and poverty is one that interests many social scientists, yet it is a relatively new comparison. Several studies show that living in an impoverished setting makes one more likely to experience a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. With many impoverished countries lacking the resources needed to provide substantial help for those affected by mental illness, programs like The Friendship Bench Project, who are working to improve mental health in Zimbabwe, are making a big impact.

Important Facts About Mental Health in Zimbabwe

  1. One in four Zimbabweans suffers from a common mental disorder (CMD), i.e. depression or anxiety.
  2. In a population of 13 million, there are only 11 psychiatrists and 20 clinical psychologists. That’s fewer than one psychiatrist per one million people.
  3. Only two of nine mental health institutions in the country have psychiatrists.

In a country with only eleven psychiatrists where one in four citizens have a CMD, it’s easy to wonder if there is anything being done to help improve mental health in Zimbabwe. That’s where The Friendship Bench Project comes in.

The Friendship Bench Project

During a Ted Talk, Dr. Dixon Chibanda, founder of The Friendship Bench Project and one of the eleven psychiatrists in Zimbabwe, explained why he started this project. Simply put, there just weren’t enough psychiatric resources in Zimbabwe to provide the aid for those who needed it. He decided to do something about it. He says that “One of the most reliable resources we have in Africa are grandmothers… there are hundreds of them… and they don’t leave their communities.” Using this knowledge, he came to the conclusion that these grandmothers can be trained to provide the necessary support for individuals who need it.

The Friendship Bench Project is an intervention of sorts that is based on problem-solving therapy where a patient and a trained community grandmother come together to identify issues impacting the patient and brainstorm ways of solving them. It is unlike conventional therapy in which the patient is diagnosed with an issue or symptom and is then treated based on their diagnosis.

Community grandmothers are trained to listen, to show empathy and are empowered with the skills needed to provide behavior activation and schedule activities. Technically, they are trained as lay health workers, but patients who go to see them recognize them only as the community grandmothers that they have always been. There are seen as someone to talk to, as someone who will listen. Together, over several sessions sitting on a park bench outside of a community health clinic, the grandmother and patient talk and work through the issues that are most affecting the patient.

The Impact of the Friendship Bench Project

A randomized clinical trial was conducted in order to see if these friendship bench sessions were working to improve the mental health in Zimbabwe. The trial split 573 patients into two groups: one group would receive psychological intervention from the community grandmothers while the other group (the control group) would receive the usual mental care from mental health professionals.

The trial found that patients who worked with the grandmothers displayed symptom scores (as measured on two symptom scales) that were lower than those who worked with doctors. This means that they had fewer symptoms of common mental disorders when they worked with lay health workers than when they worked with mental health professionals.

As of right now, there are 400 grandmothers working on 70 benches located throughout Zimbabwe, helping 35,000 people through The Friendship Bench Project. These women are changing mental health in Zimbabwe for the better. While The Friendship Bench Project is currently centered in Zimbabwe, it’s an innovative solution to combating mental health that could soon be used worldwide. In fact, Dr. Chibanda’s next goal is to do just that.

CJ Sternfels
Photo: Flickr

Stressed and Depressed: Mental Health in South KoreaIn South Korea, there is no such thing as a mental health problem. The national attitude concerning mental illness is not looked at as something that could and should be openly discussed. South Korea has always been advanced in its work ethic and technology breakthroughs. South Koreans are known to put in very long hours at the office as well as being very competitive, not to mention the amount of pressure put on students to do well in school.

However, the whole situation in the country, including educational and working pressure, has influenced the people and mental health in South Korea. According to the OECD data, South Korea has the second largest suicide rate in the world. According to government statistics, one in four South Koreans struggles with a mental health disorder at least once throughout their life. Sadly, the statistics also show that only one in 10 people will go seek some kind of professional help.

Old World Values

South Korean values traditionally center around Buddhism. These values accentuate modesty and family in the first place. Personal concerns are not the top priority to the family unit. “Talking openly about emotional problems is still taboo,” said Dr. Kim Hyong-soo, a psychologist and professor at Chosun University in Kwangju. South Koreans are stressed, depressed and are avoiding therapy at alarming rates. The South Korean thought process dates back to the old days where it was expected from a person to just grin and bear with the problems. This approach is active even today as South Koreans fear they will be stigmatized if they ask for help. Dr. Kim believes that eighty to 90 percent of the suicides in South Korea happens due to depression.

Bringing Awareness to the Problem

The South Korean government introduced the National Youth Healing Center under the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family in 2012. The program finds willing participants who suffer from mental health issues and have them participate in four-month treatment programs. The South Korean government also announced that $48.2 billion will be allocated for suicide prevention and mental health. This number is an increase of 7.7 percent from earlier years.

The Youth Health Programme works with the Korean Association for Suicide Protection. This particular nongovernmental organization encourages the education of “gatekeepers”, people who are meant to help identify citizens at-risk within their community. The Youth Health Programme helps to encourage safe talk that is also a training program that includes four stages: talk, ask, listen and keep safe. This program was aimed at younger people who could hopefully use these techniques to speak with their friends openly if they see that they are struggling.

Child Fund Korea

In 2017, Child Fund Korea sponsored 760,805 children. Child Fund Korea is the leading organization in South Korea for helping children in need. Its main goal is to provide each child with a healthy living environment, whether that is physically or mentally. Child Fund Korea understands that by starting young they may be able to help change the thought process on mental health in South Korea and persuade people to ask for help when in need.

Today, more and more South Koreans are realizing they need to figure out a way to deter stress from their life. As a result, South Korea holds the highest rates of cancer survivals while also having the ninth lowest obesity rate in the world. Yet, South Koreans are still stressing themselves to death. Thankfully, the South Korean government is understanding the need to educate its citizens in personal self-care. The government target is to reduce the suicide rate in the next five years from the current 26.5 per 100,000 people to 17, which is the current suicide rate in Japan. Success can only start when the stigma of mental health in South Korea and stress is recognized. Only then, the country and its people can move forward in full capacity.

Jennifer O’Brien

Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in LebanonIn 2011, it was estimated that approximately 17 percent of Lebanon’s population suffered from a mental illness of some kind. Among them, 90 percent of people went untreated. Mental health in Lebanon was not always a priority. However, with rising issues of mental illness, the Lebanese government is finding new ways to combat the misconceptions and stigmas surrounding mental health.

Role of Education in Understanding Mental Health

According to two researchers from the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, Lebanon, there is a distinct difference in the perception of mental illness depending on education. People who had higher educational attainment, as well as higher socioeconomic status, were more likely to have positive attitudes towards mentally ill patients. On the other hand, people who lacked education due to lower socioeconomic status had a negative outlook towards mental illness.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health and socioeconomic factors cannot be separated from each other. Socioeconomic factors can hinder educational attainment, and this may limit the lack of awareness people have about mental health.

Lack of awareness perpetuates the stigma around mental illness which stops people from receiving treatment. It even prevents them from talking about their feelings as they fail to be validated by others. Another reason why mental illness goes untreated is that many cannot afford it.

New Programmes to Help Improve Mental Health in Lebanon

The perception of mental health in Lebanon is changing and getting better. Historically, mental illness was considered something that could be solved only by the private sector. This meant that mental health care was reserved for those that could afford it.

Over the years, the government has realized that any person in need of help should be able to access mental health care. So, while mental health care will remain in part in the private sector, the health ministry in Lebanon is creating various programmes to help those who cannot afford it.

In 2014, the Lebanese health ministry created the National Mental Health Programme. This programme works with WHO, UNICEF and the International Medical Corps in order to help those with mental illness in Lebanon. It aims to incorporate mental health into general medicine more completely. This will hopefully help eradicate some of the bias that exists. It will help make mental health part of the discourse.

The programme also aims to help vulnerable populations in Lebanon such as refugees, people in prison and survivors of war and torture. This will be a huge help to these communities because it will allow them to have access to mental health care which they did not have before. It will create the perception that mental health deserves to be taken care of.

The National Mental Health Programme organized events such as “Time to Talk” in 2018. It was a way to directly combat incorrect perceptions about mental health by simply talking about mental health under ordinary contexts. Another similar event was “Depression: Let’s Talk About It to Get Out of It”. It was held in 2017 in order to discuss rising depression rates and help people heal. “My Mental Health is My Right” which was organized in 2014 aimed to enforce the fact that mental health in Lebanon is important and that every person has a right to receive treatment.

Thus, with such advanced programmes and new developments, the future of mental health care in Lebanon looks bright. It is important to remove the stigma surrounding mental health to improve people’s well being and foster a healthier and happier society.

– Isabella Niemeyer
 Photo: Unsplash

Art for RefugeesThroughout history, art has been a respite for many who lived through trauma. Refugees live their lives in an almost constant state of precarity. Refugee children typically have a higher rate of experiencing many mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Art for refugees can help them express their feelings, grow in self-confidence, and develop problem-solving skills. There are a number of art initiatives which aim to help refugees cope with psychological stressors. Some are located in refugee camps, while others are located in resettlement cities, but they all have the same goal of providing an outlet for expression. Some such initiatives are listed below.

The Za’atari Project

The Za’atari Project is an art therapy program started by Joel Artista in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. Za’atari is composed of Syrian refugees. This project serves as a bridge between the Jordanian and the Syrian communities and serves as a way to foster further understanding.

Adult artists and educators team up to create programs to enhance the lives of children living in refugee camps. These programs are both expressive and educational. They teach children about topics such as health and hygiene all while fostering healthy ways of articulating feelings. These projects include painting murals, wheelbarrows, tents and kites that allow the children to play.

The Exile Voices Project

Exile Voices is a project started by renowned photographer, Reza. This project offers a photography program to refugees in the age group of 11 to 15 in the Kawergosk camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. Exile Voices aims to tell refugee stories through the voices of refugees themselves.

Partnered with the UNHCR, Reza set out to empower these children on how to use the most powerful tool that they have–their own voice. Photographs from many children in the Kawergosk camp were lined along the Seine River in Paris, France in 2015 to show people the importance of art for refugees.

Art for Refugees in Lebanon

In 2017, 1 out of every 6 people in Lebanon was a Syrian refugee. This put significant pressure on schools to make the resources available for education. To tackle rising tensions in schools, the Skoun Association started an art therapy program within schools to help refugee and Lebanese students express themselves in healthy ways.

The art therapy program allows the students to overcome the trauma they experienced and helps to strengthen social bonds. It allows students to see themselves as children first. It also helps them forget the places of disconnect.

The Amsterdam Painting Project

In Amsterdam, refugees are housed in the Bijlmerbajes prison. The Amsterdam Painting Project aims to turn the prison space into something more welcoming, one that is full of renewed hope and life. This project aspires to serve as a bridge within the community and empower refugees to become more involved with one another.

The project was founded by Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn. These two Dutch artists set out to promote community art by improving living conditions. The Project is funded by the Favela Painting Foundation, a group that has also completed projects in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Florence, Italy.

Clothes, food, shelter and other basic necessities will always be required in refugee camps or in resettlement cities. There is, however, also a need to ensure the mental wellbeing of refugees and create an outlet for them to share their experiences. Art is an excellent way to create this outlet. It allows refugees to tell their own stories and to express themselves productively. Most importantly, the idea of ‘art for refugees’ is one of the most effective ways to heal those minds that have been traumatized for a long period of time.

– Isabella Niemeyer
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in HaitiOn January 12, 2010, large scale earthquake occurred, affecting the island of Hispaniola and most severely affecting the small country of Haiti. Five years after this catastrophe, many people in this country still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues.

Earthquake Consequences on Mental Health in Haiti

As a result of the earthquake, over 90.5 percent of Haitians had relatives that either died or were seriously injured and 93 percent saw dead bodies. Moreover, 24.6 percent of the earthquake survivors developed PTSD symptoms and 28.3 percent developed major depressive disorder (MDD) symptoms. That accounts for more than half the population suffering from mental illness post-quake.

It is not surprising that so many people were traumatized by the event, as the quake left more than two million affected, 222,750 killed, 80,000 bodies missing, 188,383 houses destroyed or damaged and 1.5 million displaced. Before the earthquake, the mental health system in Haiti was almost non-existent mostly due to stigma.

Problems in Resolving the Issue

The good news is that the earthquake united Haitians to put some focus on mental health, still not nearly enough, but just enough to get the ball rolling. However, due to the overwhelming need for mental health services and very limited resources, most Haitians are not getting the psychiatric help they need. Now that mental health issues are more widespread, there is a stronger push for the government to invest more in training professionals and increase resources for mental health in Haiti.

One of the issues around Haitians not receiving mental health is religion. Mental health issues tend to be attributed to supernatural forces, where three out of four Haitians will see an herbalist or Vodou priests for treatment instead of seeking clinical services. This is due to both cultural beliefs and inadequate resources for mental health. Clinical practice in Haiti must include mental health treatment intersected with Vodou beliefs to effectively care for patients of the country.

Center for Addiction and Mental Health

Out of more than 90 agencies that offered outreach to Haiti, only three offered psychiatric care. Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) Office of Transformative Global Health in Canada is one of those agencies. The organization collaborates with 40 religious healers of Haiti to provide cognitive behavioral therapy in an effective way that is in conjunction with cultural beliefs.

The adoption of task-shifting, or dedicating low-cost mental health workers such as community health workers (CHWs) who operate at the community and clinic levels to supplement integrated care, will help with efforts to decentralize mental health care. These improvements are being made in Haiti, however, there is still a long way to go. More investment in the health care system is needed to implement adequate mental health treatment for those still suffering from the trauma of the quake, and more generally, mental health treatment is needed for all.

In improving services for mental health in Haiti, poverty can also be reduced. Implementing adequate treatment can have far-reaching effects, as poor mental health is often the root cause of other health conditions, and it can inhibit people from participating in social and economic development.

Although not enough outreach to Haiti involved mental health services, mental health in Haiti is improving. Through the integration of community services between psychotherapy and religious or cultural practices, agencies like CAMH are facilitating change in the country. Reducing those inhibited by mental disorders also creates more contributors to the community and less burden placed on society due to mental disability. However, more funding is needing in the mental health practice to reduce illness and poverty.

– Anna Power

Photo: Google

Global Mental IllnessMental illness receives far less attention than it should. Even though the data collected on global mental illness is minimal, it proves that mental diseases impose a functional hindrance on a stark percentage of the population. When not at full mental health, an individual cannot cope with the stresses of life nor make a productive contribution to their community. Therefore, providing effective and accessible treatment for mental illness is essential around the world.

Each organization listed here offers unique strategies to combat global mental illness. They range from small organizations with a specific focus to large organizations that devote only a part of their resources to mental health. Despite the varying sizes and contribution of each one, the continued efforts and successes of all of them still give an often ignored problem some much-needed attention and alleviation.

Strong Minds

The Strong Minds organization has had a promising impact on mental health despite being such a new and small program. Unlike organizations that tackle global mental illness by placing their incumbents throughout the world to cover multiple issues, Strong Minds has reserved its programs to African women with depression.

While this seems like a narrow focus, Strong Minds insists that their program can still have a major impact. Their website points to the statistics that 100 million people in Africa suffer from depression and women suffer at twice the rate of men. Suffering from depression makes women less productive and can cause further issues with physical health over time, which can, in turn, have an impact on the children of the person suffering.

Strong Minds uses a cost-effective method known as Group Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT-G), which it can easily teach to local professionals. It consists of an initial 12-week talk therapy session. The women who complete these therapy groups also have the option to create their own Peer Therapy Groups to help other members of their community.

Using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) to evaluate their patients’ depression after the program, the organization found the results to be better than initially expected. Of the women who graduated from the program “between 94-97 percent” reported reduced symptoms of depression, and a third remained depression-free after six to eight months. With this success, Strong Minds hopes to continue to expand its program through additional connections with other programs in order to reach more women overall.

The Carter Center

While former president Jimmy Carter’s organization allocates a significant section of its healthcare resources towards physical diseases, it also has a commitment to mental health. Jimmy Carter’s wife and the center’s co-founder, Rosalynn Carter, manages The Mental Health Care Task Force and The National Advisory Council as well as The Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism. She also holds an annual symposium on mental health policies that gathers innovative thinkers in order to discuss and learn about a different topic each year.

Unlike an organization that creates mental health care programs or sends in doctors, The Carter Center focuses instead on spreading awareness and education about global mental illness. The task force partners itself with global health leaders in order to advocate for the need of such programs and to create policies that will alleviate mental illness. The fellowship has the task of reducing the stigma of mental illness by teaching journalists how to “more accurately and sensitively report information and influence peers and stakeholders to do the same”.

The Carter Center’s programs working in Liberia have had the most telling impact with the center and its partners training more than 240 mental health clinicians, some of whom have gone on to create programs of their own. It has also assisted Liberia’s Ministry of Health in the creation of a “five-year strategy and policy plan” to protect and promote the rights of mentally ill individuals.

The journalism fellowship has produced “more than 1,500 stories, documentaries and books”, which have garnered an Emmy, nominations for the Pulitzer Prize, and other awards. Many alumni have also reported a progress in the mental health policies at the local and state levels.

Doctors Without Borders

Founded in 1971, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) works to provide global healthcare in more than 70 countries to individuals who need it most in times of crisis. Natural disasters, epidemics, refugee migrations and conflicts all fall within the typical events that doctors in the MSF work to alleviate. Along with the typical injuries and illnesses following a crisis, MSF acknowledged the need to also treat mental illness as part of their emergency work in 1998.

This work remains a challenge for the organization due to the complexity of both managing psychiatric medications and providing long-term care in areas of conflict and disaster. Nevertheless, the organization held “229,000 individual and 53,300 group counseling sessions” in 2016, which were often performed by local counselors trained by MSF. These sessions treat a variety of symptoms from depression and anxiety to coping with the trauma that victims of disasters have endured.

Increased awareness efforts about the truth and the impact of global mental illness should influence more governments and non-profits to redirect their aims. However, more innovations will be needed in the coming years to make it cheaper and easier to provide mental health resources around the world. In the meantime, these organizations, as well as others, can only hope for and work towards the continued success of their programs.

Elizabeth A. Frerking

Photo: Flickr

Ending Modern Slavery One App at a TimeApproximately one in four people will be affected by a mental health disorder in their lifetime. There are strong links that show that living in poverty can take it a severy toll on one’s mental health. This article will examine poverty’s toll on mental health.

What is mental health?

By definition, mental health is the condition regarding one’s psychological and emotional well-being. Mental health affects how one thinks, feels and acts. It can also dictate how someone copes with stress, their ability to relate to others and decision making. The most prevalent examples of mental health disorders are anxiety, depression, alcohol/drug use, Bipolar disorder, Schizophrenia and eating disorders. According to Mentalhealth.gov, some factors that can contribute to mental health issues include:

  • Biological factors– genes, brain chemistry
  • Life experiences– trauma, abuse, etc.
  • Family history of mental health problems

The term ‘Mental Health’ has been around for quite some time, but it has gotten a reputation for being abused. There have been many cases over the years where people self-diagnose or lie to get out of particular circumstances. Because of this kind of abuse, some people don’t believe in mental health disorders at all. Although there is a vast variety of mental health issues, these disorders do exist and should be taken seriously.

Everyone is different just like every health condition differs. There are some people who suffer from anxiety on a low spectrum, which can sometimes be maintained in-house, while there are others who suffer from anxiety on a high spectrum and may undergo daily panic attacks. This would be an example of someone who may need psychiatric help or medication.

How does poverty affect mental health?

Poverty is considered a significant social determinant of mental health. Poverty is a perfect example of a life experience that can affect one’s mental state. Physical health and wellness isn’t the only hardship that people in poverty endure. Being subjected to an impoverished environment where money, food and shelter is uncertain can lead to mental health complications.

Although the idea of poverty being the cause of a mental illness is fairly new to science, there is evidence of a connection. According to National Public Radio, people that live in poverty appear to be at a higher risk for mental illnesses and show lower levels of happiness. It has been difficult to study people in poverty for statistical purposes, but the studies that have been done do exhibit signs that when financial circumstances are drastically affected, there’s a rise in rates of depression.

How People in Poverty Are Affected

It’s a proven fact that living in poverty for any significant period of time automatically increases risk factors for health and mental problems. The vicious cycle of poverty comes with the constant stress of finances- worrying if there’s enough money to eat and practicing bad eating habits because processed food is cheaper than healthy food.

Stress is an immediate link to mental issues, such as depression, anxiety and, in extreme cases, multiple personality disorder. The rates of violence tend to also be higher among those that face economic tension. There are some cases where mental illnesses can be the cause for people to fall into poverty.

For people who have experienced poverty early in life, their risk of a mental illness is higher. Poverty’s toll on mental health for children can lead to higher rates of delinquency, depressive and anxiety disorders and higher rates for psychiatric disorders in adulthood.

Although poverty’s toll on mental health is known, it’s still unclear how to best break this cycle. Perhaps more research will allow for solutions. Considering poverty doesn’t have to be a life-long condition, it is very possible for mental illnesses brought on by poverty to be alleviate if the people affected can be helped out of poverty.

Kayla Sellers

Photo: Flickr

Mental Health Care for RefugeesOn average, one in four people around the world will experience some type of mental disorder or psychosocial disability within their lifetime. Of these people, 85 percent live in low- to middle-income countries. Countries involved in conflict, which can lead to the displacement of many citizens, tend to be a threat to mental health care for refugees.

In 2018, War Child reported that 65 million people were displaced worldwide–the highest record in history. This number is continuing to rise every two seconds. Of these refugees, half are children.

In Recent Years

UNICEF reports that there are 22,500 refugee children in Greece. For refugees, working in the formal sector is often illegal, which results in the creation of many informal jobs such as begging, sex work and under-the-table labor. Children and adolescents are at a higher risk of developing PTSD or depression, with rates as high as 90 and 40 percent respectively.

For many of these children the experience of being a refugee is associated with trauma. The four stages of the refugee experience include leaving home, moving to a camp or “transit center”, seeking asylum and finally being resettled. The process leaves many refugees with depression, anxiety, adjustment disorders or somatization.

In 2013, the World Health Organization created the Mental Health Action Plan. The hope is to challenge the stigma and discrimination often held against mental health diseases. The four objectives underlying the plan are to strengthen leadership and governance for mental health, provide integrated and responsive services for mental health and social care on the community level, promote preventative strategies, and strengthen information systems.

The process of relocation is often difficult and flawed–placing in peril mental health care for refugees. Language or cultural barriers lead to the improper identification of mental health problems. The barriers can become so large that evidence of problems can be overlooked.

Easing the Process

Inter-Agency Standing Committee has created a series of guidelines for supporting mental health care for refugees in emergency settings. The guidelines apply to more than just mental health and psychosocial workers. Their intent is also for humanitarian workers, general health care providers and camp management–all sectors involved in aiding refugees.

The necessity to motivate people to seek help and to have the proper tools necessary aid in their recovery. In many cases, professional psychiatrists or psychologists are not always readily available. Instead, health care providers, such as nurses or doctors, can be trained to help identify and manage people with mental health problems.

The widely accepted way to aid in mental health problems is through family or community support. For many refugees, they have been forcibly removed from their homes and any sense of community they might have had. The creation of various support systems aids in the coping process.

Recent Successes

As of 2018, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) finished its ninth consecutive year of its children’s mental health summer camp. This year’s title was “My Identity is My Dignity,” focusing was on community mental health. Programs like this were held throughout West Bank.

The program employed 46 Palestinian refugee youths, ages 18-24 years old, to lead summer camps for hundreds of refugee children ages 6-13. The focus of the camp was with issues such as communication, gender-based violence, sexual violence, bullying and violence on social media. UNRWA provided relief and social services along with health programs.

Recently, UNRWA has seen an increase in demand for services around mental health for refugees as the number of registered Palestinian refugees continues to rise–often coinciding with poverty.

While conflict and poverty exist in the world, so will the prevalence of mental health diseases, especially amongst refugees. To best aid in their relief, the creation of support systems and professional programs to help with the readjustment process are crucial.

– Taylor Jennings
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Affects HealthHealth is wealth. There is nothing more valuable than good health, but it can sometimes come at a high cost. In today’s world, without money, it is almost impossible to maintain a healthy body or mental state.

Poverty and poor health are intertwined since poverty increases the chances for poor health. There are three billion people worldwide who barely survive on less than $2.50 per day and 1.3 billion people who live in extreme poverty, which is less than $1.25 per day. Of those in poverty, one billion are children.

According to UNICEF, 22,000 children per year die due to living in poverty. This is because living in poverty means living without the basic essentials. A lack of clean water, shelter and food eventually takes a toll on one’s mental and physical health, which can be fatal.

How Poverty Affects Physical Health

People living in poverty usually lack access to medical care facilities with professional doctors. Prenatal care and nutrition are unavailable to mothers during pregnancy; therefore, children can’t reach their full potential because they don’t have the proper care against diseases, infections or malnutrition.

According to Do Something, nearly 2,300 people around the world die every day from diarrhea caused by a lack of clean water, sanitation and hygiene. In 2011, more than 165 million children under the age of five were stunted from malnutrition.

Living conditions are also a factor in how poverty affects health. Poor living conditions lead to the development and spreading of diseases. The World Health Organization states that nearly two million people in developing countries die from common health issues, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases caused by air pollution as well as from illnesses caused by extreme temperatures. Without proper shelters, people become susceptible to such illnesses and diseases, which they are unable to seek professional medical care for.

Poverty also affects health because it forces one to work harder, which creates more stress. Someone living in poverty may have to work multiple jobs or risk working jobs that aren’t safe. To make matters worse, these jobs often only pay enough to afford substandard housing in dangerous neighborhoods where crime rates are higher.

How Poverty Affects Mental Health

Good mental health is essential because it controls everyday life tasks, and a lack of good mental health can eventually takes a toll on physical health. The National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported, of the 9.8 million adults in the U.S. suffering from a serious mental illness, 2.5 million live below the poverty line. In addition, The McSilver Institute reported a that the possibility of food insecurity was increased by 50 to 80 percent in households where the mother has depression.

Adults are not the only ones that are affected by poverty. Children living in poverty experience high levels of stress and anxiety just like adults. Psychology Today states that children facing poverty have to deal with the stress of living in dangerous neighborhoods and are more likely to be bullied. They will also change homes twice as much and get evicted five times as much as the average American. A child is supposed to be enjoying his or her childhood with friends instead of worrying about tough situations caused by poverty.

People living in poverty often pay the price of serious health issues since they rarely have enough resources to get through the day. In order to reduce poverty, more efforts need to be made to provide necessary care for the mind and the body.

– Kristen Uedoi
Photo: Flickr

Poor Mental HealthThe Mental Health Foundation has recognized poverty as a causal factor of mental health problems, but also as a consequence of mental health problems. Poor mental health and poverty often go hand in hand.

Causes and Effects of Poor Mental Health

Mental health issues arise from causes related to the social, economic and physical environments in which an individual lives. Poor mental health in a community is significant in the range of social health problems that contribute to reduced development. The effects include decreased community cohesion, low educational achievement, poor physical health, premature mortality and increased violence.

Recovery from both mental health problems and poverty requires timely, sufficient access to quality resources and care.  Incorporating principles and taking action in devastated areas will substantially improve the quality of life for individuals with mental and psychosocial disabilities. It will also improve development in the individuals themselves, as well as their families and communities.

The Work of Advancing Partners & Communities

Advancing Partners & Communities (ADC), a USAID-funded organization, recognizes the need to address mental health stability to repair impoverished communities. ADC understands that to address inequalities related to mental health and poverty, there must be a change in social arrangements. In order to transform an area’s social arrangement, the ADC has created community healing dialogues (CHDs) in areas of Sierra Leone that have been heavily affected by Ebola outbreaks.

The Ebola outbreak in 2014, as well as the recent outbreak in May of 2018, have left many countries with a sense of devastation and hopelessness.  Many people lost friends and family members, and survivors of the illness have been faced with discrimination and stigmatization. The immense disconnect between community members, as well as the heavy devastation that faces them, have affected the mental health of individuals and communities alike.

Community Healing Dialogues

The CHDs, a type of community-centered regeneration program, work directly with the distressed communities in an effort to change the divided social structure. The dialogues catalyze local action and build social capital, both of which are necessities in overcoming mental health instability and poverty.

The CHDs offer people, specifically survivors ostracized by their community, an outlet to voice their concerns, complaints and ideas for solutions. With the help of the CHD-trained facilitators, members of the community are able to move past stigmas and accept the survivors back into their midst.

By providing peer-support within the community, the CHDs work toward uniting people to build social capital. Social capital creates strong bonds within the community, allowing it to provide protection against health risks, resilience and support for its people, as well as access to social, psychological and economic resources. Conversation is key to building social capital, and social capital is key to developing a strong community.

Healing, for a community devastated by disease or an individual struggling with mental illness, begins with conversation. Assistance offered to people with poor mental health has the ability to impact the wellbeing of not only the individual but the entire community.

– Samantha Harward
Photo: Flickr