How Greece's Financial Crisis Led to New Mental Health AwarenessFor the past decade, Greece has been fighting an economic disaster. Beginning in 2009, Greece’s financial crisis resulted in a budget deficit of approximately 13% of the country’s GDP—four times more than the 3% mandated limit. Therefore, Greece was forced to borrow 289 billion euros and adopt austerity measures, placing an enormous burden on the population. In turn, these economic pressures led to one of Greece’s worst mental health crises to date.

Greece’s Financial Crisis Affecting Employment and Mental Health

The decade-long recession and tax increases left many Greeks unemployed. The rate of unemployment rose to 27% and one-third of the population is currently living in poverty. In 2012, during the peak of the financial crisis, Areti Stabelou, a college graduate, expressed her depression to be linked to the rise in unemployment—a sentiment common among Greece’s youth. In a BBC interview, Stabelou talks about the mental health stigma Greece had once suffered from, saying mental health “was very difficult to talk about in those early years.”

However, as years passed and more Greeks were experiencing the toll of the crisis, Stabelou points out that they “more openly began talking about it.” The country’s financial crisis gave rise to a new awareness of mental health, which had previously been labeled as taboo.

The population’s sentiment toward mental health had vastly changed. A study found that in 2009, 63.1% of Greeks believed that depression is a sign of weakness. By 2014, the study found that the percentage dropped to 36%.

According to the founder of Greece’s sole suicide prevention center, Klimaka, the Greek Crisis was able to bring “problems that were being ignored to the forefront.” In 2008, merely 3.3% of the population had depression. By 2013, this percentage had more than doubled, with 12.3% of the population suffering from depression. Depression was not a new illness; however, the rising rates simply allowed for a new direction of the conversation to shift toward the mental disorder.

Addressing Mental Health in Greece

Following the rising issue in the nation, the Greek Orthodox Church took on a more tolerant approach to mental health. The Greek Orthodox Church has always considered suicide a sin and therefore, they do not provide a burial service to those who take their own life. Because of this, many suicides go unreported in order to protect the family from shame. However, Klimaka, Greece’s non-profit suicide prevention clinic, believes that now the Church has an important role in alleviating the stigma around suicide and overall, suicide rates. As of now, if the doctor has diagnosed the deceased with a mental illness, the Church will provide a burial service.

The Greek Health Ministry has also planned suicide awareness campaigns and has taken action to ensure that their practitioners are better prepared to detect depression. Between 2010 to 2015, there has been a 40% increase in suicides, making the rise in visibility an extremely important cause.

While Greeks are becoming more open and tolerant toward mental health, obstacles prevent the nation from achieving the right care for those in need. The financial crisis had led to a rise in the demand for psychological services. Yet, in 2011, the country’s annual budget on mental health was halved and has been further cut every year since. These budget cuts have caused a shortage of staff and supplies, making it difficult for the population to receive adequate care.

Greece’s financial crisis has led to new mental health awareness. However, mental health initiatives must continue to effectively care for those in need, especially following the financial crisis and the high unemployment rate.

Maiya Falach
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Taiwan
As of the year 2017, about 1.5 million people in Taiwan experience some form of depression. Much like many other Asian populations, mental health issues within groups ranging from young children to prisoners to middle-aged adults heavily afflict Taiwan. With conflicts related to school bullying, family, structure and support, lack of available treatment and workplace violence, deterioration of mental health in Taiwan is something that many Taiwanese people experience. Evidently, mental health is indeed a pressing issue that calls for urgent alleviation.

Mental Health in Taiwan

A 20-year study from 1990 to 2010 utilized a Chinese Health Questionnaire to examine the prevalence of common mental disorders (CMDs) among over 10,000 Taiwanese adult participants. The study showed a doubling in probable CMDs from 11.5% to 23.8%. However, amid rising levels of mental illness in Taiwan, there is also a rise in efforts to dispel stigmas, implement more effective programs and make amendments in already established legislation. There are people and groups beginning to recognize and work towards both reviving conversations and seeking out solutions related to mental health.

The Mental Health Act of Taiwan

The Ministry of Health and Welfare first established the Mental Health Act of Taiwan in 1990 with the objective of promoting mental well-being, treating mental health issues and supporting patients and their families. In 2007, policymakers implemented an amendment to the act to put patients and their families first. Many policies, prevention and resource allocation thereafter were then based more heavily upon the input of those who have actually experienced mental health issues along with their family members.

One of the larger impacts of the amendment was that compulsory admissions needed to receive approval from the Psychiatric Disease Mandatory Assessment and Community Care Review Committee. The number of compulsory admissions, or involuntary admissions, decreased by 83% in comparison to 2006. This change showed Taiwan’s commitment to developing a more detailed plan for protecting patients’ safety and rights. The amendment also drastically impacted the way that psychiatric institutions function in that there were new requirements related to post-treatment procedures, providing assistance for the patient’s family and encouraging community-based rehabilitation. All of these changes were the result of efforts to enhance protection and treatment for those who face issues with mental health and illness.

Women Anonymous Reconnecting Mentally (WARM)

The issue of mental health in Taiwan often carries a negative connotation and many associate it with shame and self-accusation due to very traditional and Confucian values. However, there are now emerging support groups that allow people to voice their struggles and relieve the burden that they might feel. Women Anonymous Reconnecting Mentally (WARM), co-founded by Vanessa Wang in 2017, is the first women’s support group based in Taipei that aims to combat stigmas against mental health by allowing women to share their hardships without feeling ashamed. Though it does not provide professional treatment, women who attend these weekly meetings have expressed that they have found comfort through listening to and speaking about their own struggles.

Having been featured in the Taiwan Observer, Taiwan News and Taipei Times, WARM is quickly expanding its reach. WARM’s Facebook group has over 500 members and is continuing to grow. The issue of mental health is now experiencing more exposure and the process of reconciliation is beginning with these kinds of support groups. Many are slowly realizing the importance of reshaping the narrative around mental health.

The Mental Health Association in Taiwan (MHAT)

Founded in 1955, the Mental Health Association in Taiwan (MHAT) is another group that works with promoting mental health awareness, prevention and treatment. In 2017, it began to target mental health issues within schools through promoting techniques of mindfulness and books related to mental resilience. MHAT’s current goal is to educate young children, teachers and parents about mental health and resiliency. As a diverse group of people who work in various professional fields, MHAT has previously assisted in drafting and promoting legislation related to mental health. It has completed work with and related to the Mental Health Act, the Department of Mental and Oral Health and more.

Over time, mental health in Taiwan is becoming a more popular subject of conversation. There are increasingly more groups and pieces of legislation that advocate for these kinds of issues that will, in turn, raise awareness and encourage more positive attitudes surrounding mental health.

– Grace Wang
Photo: Pixabay

Mental Health in Canada
Mental health in Canada has become a bigger issue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada is fortunate to have the assistance of organizations and companies that are offering services to bring forth solutions that will alleviate the stresses of the pandemic and address ways to cope with mental health in Canada positively. One of Canada’s own pharmaceutical companies EmpowerPharm Inc. is creating a unique CBD (Cannabidiol) tablet to ease anxiety.

EmpowerPharm Inc. and Empower CBD

EmpowerPharm Inc.’s tablet Empower CBD is different from typical anxiety medications because it will not cause habit-forming behaviors or disability. Empower CBD will go through intensive clinical studies with departments like Health Canada. The tablet comprises synthetic CBD and will not contain any THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). CBD is a better option because it gives medicinal effects without the high that usually exists in the THC strain.

Espri by TELUS Health

Canadian essential workers have access to a mental health mobile app called Espri by TELUS Health. The mobile app offers resources in mental health and wellness to various frontline workers. Physicians and nurses are just two occupations that the app specifically mentions among others that offer tools that center on the particular stressors that occur in their day-to-day work shift.

Trained clinicians who understand the needs of essential workers who need support in times of crisis created the Espri by TELUS Health app. The app features informative content, a section to build goals to foster positive growth and virtual sessions to connect in a safe and confidential space that offers therapy and educational support.

CMHA Bounceback Program

The Canadian Mental Health Association supports mental health in Canada through the Bounceback program. The program is possible due to a $1 million donation that has allowed Bounceback into Alberta, the Atlantic provinces and Manitoba along with other parts of Canada. The program can be tailor-made to suit an individual’s needs, helping youth and adults learn how to cope with mood symptoms, mental illness and unpleasant mental and emotional states.

Bounceback works on a national level in Canada and has helped “reduce depressive and anxiety symptoms by 50%” through cognitive behavioral therapy. The program is available to English and French-speaking participants as long as a primary care provider becomes involved.

Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)

Many know the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) as one of the best mental health organizations; it has made its resources readily available in all 10 provinces and one territory and serves over 1.3 million Canadians. CMHA believes in full recovery among all individuals of all ages suffering from mental health issues. About “[one] in [five] people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness.” Meanwhile, before the age of 50, about half of the Canadian population will experience a mental illness, showing the importance of treating mental health in Canada.

The solutions to overcoming mental health in Canada are creative in all its forms through means of medicine, technology and health programs that all have one common goal to make the lives of many individuals better again.

– Amanda Ortiz
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Brazil
Brazil, a country that many know for the luscious biodiversity in its Amazon rainforest, comprises over 211 million people, making it the second most populated country globally. Among the Brazilian population, around 68% is between the ages of 15-64, a target age range for both anxiety disorders and depression. Brazil leads in the world in terms of anxiety cases and ranks fifth for cases of depression, while access to public health support for treatment remains low. Here are six facts about anxiety, depression and mental health in Brazil.

6 Facts About Anxiety, Depression and Mental Health in Brazil

  1. People recognize mental health in Brazil as taboo. Individuals in Brazil often underestimate or even ignore the mental health suffering of those who are battling anxiety or depression. The Brazilian culture does not place an emphasis on mental health as Brazilians see the need to focus on treating physical ailments rather than seeking care for mental issues. Consequently, in high-stress environments such as in workplaces, employers do not recognize the need to take time off to prioritize mental health. Moreover, doctors handle the majority of patient concerns, leaving out the possibility of allowing a psychologist or psychiatrist to make informed health decisions.
  2. The focus on traditional work culture exacerbates anxiety and depression. Traditional Brazilian work culture values the workaholic employee. Although a large percentage of the population is aging, many individuals in Brazil remain employed and take on long shifts despite the burden it places on their quality of life. People believe the prevailing notion that social status and appearance provide a place in society. As a result, working long hours equate to limited time for family, friends and activities that would otherwise decrease the stress associated with one’s job. For example, with the COVID-19 pandemic, essential workers who remain active are facing higher rates of anxiety and depression given that the fear of contagion is their main source of stress.
  3. Worsening socioeconomic status increases the prevalence of mental health issues. Individuals growing up in households facing low socioeconomic status tend to have a higher risk of becoming depressed or experiencing an anxiety disorder. A study evaluated a cohort of young subjects between 10-18 years old and looked at the onset of symptoms of depression as well as their relationship to the socioeconomic status of the previous generation. The study concluded that there was a connection between family financial problems at an early age and depression at 18 years old, as a chronic cycle of adversities can become difficult to eradicate.
  4. Adolescents between ages 15-17 are at a heightened risk of experiencing a mental health issue. Approximately 7-12% of Brazilian children and adolescents suffer from a mental health issue and almost half of these cases are severe, meaning that they would require mental health care. Not only are anxiety disorders and depression highly stigmatized in Brazil, but adolescents already face a period of frailty and adaptation of physical, cultural and psychological changes. In fact, the search for identity and insertion into the world at this age creates a great burden of anxiety. When coupled with food insecurity, low socioeconomic status and limited education, the risk of mental health issues rapidly increases.
  5. Limited access to education affects mental health. In Brazil, adolescents whose mothers had fewer years of schooling had a higher prevalence of depressive and anxiety disorders than adolescents whose mothers had over eight years of schooling. Additionally, the lower a mother’s level of education, the greater chance that the students would feel lonely, have fewer friends and have trouble falling asleep due to constant worrying. Socioeconomic status also plays a role in determining whether or not a child can attend a school with a promising future in Brazil. Children of middle and upper-class families can afford the high tuition necessary to attend private schools, whereas families living in the country’s low-income housing, known as favelas, must send their children to public schools. In an attempt to reduce the education gap between public and private schools, the Foundation Institute for Economic Research founded a program called Tem+Matemática. The program joined students in public schools with tutors from a similar socioeconomic background as them, to prove that the educational challenges are surmountable.
  6. Declining mental health in Brazil remains a difficult problem to eradicate, however, some are taking measures to lessen its intensity. Through reform on a community basis, care continues to shift from institutions to community services and mental health services emerged in the form of psychosocial care centers, known as CAPS. The community services that CAPS offers help those with persistent and severe mental health issues through both individual and group assistance in the form of actions including therapeutic workshops, sports activities and family assistance. Brazil has grown its numbers of CAPS centers substantially since 1998, demonstrating a considerable expansion of access to mental health care. By fostering a sense of social inclusion, Brazilians struggling to cope with mental health issues can find a new sense of hope and support.

Looking Ahead

Although Brazil ranks fifth worldwide for depressive cases, organizations such as the Center for Valuing Life (CVV) are working toward improving outcomes for those suffering from depression. Given that the second leading cause of death among Brazilians aged between 15-29 is due to suicidal tendencies, the CVV provides those suffering from suicidal thoughts with assistance over the phone. To ensure accessibility, the service is available 24 hours a day. The CVV affirmed that their services have helped with cases every 43 minutes, promoting a service of help and acceptance.

– Sarah Frances
Photo: Flickr

The Influence of Poverty on Mental Health in South Africa
The most recent report evaluating the living conditions of men, women and children in South Africa in 2015 shows the disproportionate influence of poverty on female-led households. According to the Living Conditions Survey (LCS), approximately half of the adult population in South Africa were living below the poverty line. Broken down, 52% of women and 46% of men were experiencing poverty. Most notably, the poverty gap is larger for female-led households than male-led households. This is affecting adults and children facing poverty. Only 25.7% of children in poor areas have access to a safe place to play. This is crucial to healthy development for the children. There is a correlation between poverty and mental health in South Africa.

The Mental Health Crisis

In South Africa, mental health does not receive any sort of priority status, and in rural communities, there is no support for those struggling with mental health disorders. A study on South African health reported that at least 15% of people suffer from anxiety disorders. Additionally, 10% are suffering from depression and bipolar disorders. Unfortunately, the systems in place to support those struggling with these disorders only aid about a quarter of them. This is mostly due to the lack of funding for mental health. Consequently, this mental health crisis and lack of support can also be attributed to the stigma surrounding mental disorders, proximity to services, inequality and poverty. Poverty and mental health in South Africa are directly correlated, however, it is not a priority for health services.

Organizations Supporting Mental Health

The Mental Health and Poverty Project (MHaPP) at the University of Cape Town is a project working to build policies to break the stigma of mental health. It also provides access and support to even the poorest communities, who often face the most extreme influences of mental health disorders. The MHaPP reports that 53% of the 23 public mental hospitals provide 72-hour assessments of patients with psychiatric emergencies. However, the care is far from adequate as many suicidal patients wait multiple hours for examination.

One of the most important findings from MHaPP was that attitude and understanding of mental health issues still have a very negative connotation. Despite the care provided, people facing mental health disorders are not supported with proper care due to discrimination. Additionally, the MHaPP is working to reevaluate the structure and mindset of mental health in South Africa. Hence, the MHaPP is providing awareness to these issues.

Women are Disproportionately at Risk of Mental Health Problems

According to MHaPP researchers, one in three women in low-income communities experiences postnatal depression. In addition, research from KwaZulu-Natal found that 41% of pregnant women experience depression. This number is three times higher than statistics from developed nations. The project explains that there are strong ties between poverty, social deprivation and exposure to traumatic experiences. This directly influences the mental health of people living in these conditions.

There are correlations between poverty and mental health, especially for women who are older, widowed or in poor physical health. One of the most consistent findings in the study of poverty and mental health in South Africa is that depression and anxiety disorders increase with age.

Poverty and mental health in South Africa are issues that need to be supported by healthcare providers and services. Additionally, this issue needs to be prioritized, especially for women in poorer communities. The mental health stigma needs to be broken through awareness of disorders and alteration of mindset from the current negative outlook that discriminates against people living in poverty and experiencing mental health struggles.

Caroline Pierce
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Iraq
Suicide rates in Iraq are on the rise in 2020, primarily among members of communities struggling to find employment, resources, political peace and aid during the ravage of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Yazidi people, a Kurdish religious minority group, are facing an unprecedented rise in suicide rates as they relive the trauma that the 2014 ISIS raids caused in their hometowns. Here is some information about mental health in Iraq including the relationship between suicide rates, mental health and COVID-19 among the Yazidi people of Iraq.

Who are the Yazidi People?

Yazidi refers to a member of a small, monotheistic, semi-ancient religion based in Northern Iraq, Northern Syria and some parts of Turkey. The Yazidi people have been the target of various religious persecutions since their beginnings, most recently in the 2014 raids by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS.) They tend to live in isolation as they observe a strict philosophy on religious purity, thus driving them away from contact with members outside of their religious community.

Why is Suicide Prevalent in the Yazidi Community?

The majority of suicides among the Yazidi people result from poor living conditions in Internal Displacement Camps in the northern corner of Iraq. Still, the living conditions alone are not to blame. The combination of psychological trauma from ISIS captivity and limited access to basic psychological services, due to the stigma around mental health in Iraq, has unfortunately led many Yazidi people, primarily women, to search for suicide as an answer to their suffering.

How is COVID-19 Impacting Suicide Rates?

With unemployment, depression, isolationism and abuse at all-time highs during the pandemic, people across the world are leaning to harmful actions, such as suicide, as a form of relief.

Dr. Mark Reger, Chief of Psychology Services at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, states that the pandemic, along with civil unrest and economic struggles, produces a “perfect storm” for suicide risk. Among Yazidi people specifically, though, COVID-19 is causing many to relive the nightmares that the ISIS invasions caused. For many, the isolation and fear caused by either the loss of jobs or by social distancing remind them of the sleepless nights they spent in fear of kidnapping, murder or rape by members of ISIS in the 2014 attacks.

The lack of services to treat mental health in Iraq may have influenced suicide risk among the Yazidi people. There are currently only 80 active psychologists in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, while 70% of Iraqi citizens who self-report mental distress have suicidal thoughts. Despite this data being about a decade old, one can surmise that mental health in Iraq worsened over the last decade although researchers have had a difficult time updating statistics due to political restrictions.

Solutions

The following organizations are positively impacting mental health in Iraq and Yazidi communities through raising awareness, providing treatment traditionally unavailable to the community and offering financial assistance for intervention.

  1. Dak Organization for Women Development: The Dak Organization for Women Development assists in raising awareness for issues plaguing Yazidi women and girls. For example, it has initiated the 16 Days Against Violence Against Women event, which involves the holding of meetings, workshops and community-based groups to open up the conversation and discuss ways to implement change. This organization also offers psychological support for the Yazidi communities by providing support groups including ones specifically for women.
  2. Back to Life: Back to Life provides rehabilitation and treatment centers for Yazidi women and girls struggling with PTSD or other mental issues due to the actions of ISIS. In 2019 alone, it has helped more than 597 young adults or children receive psychological support and brought empowerment to more than 1,270 Yazidi women through sewing workshops.

Attention to mental health in Iraq is necessary considering the country’s recent challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, through continued support, mental health among Yazidi communities will improve.

– Johnnie Walton
Photo: Flickr

 

Mental Health in Palestine
Palestinian refugees and citizens in the Occupied Territories are exposed to a great amount of violence and terror as a result of the Israeli occupation. This exposure has increased the prevalence of mental health disorders such as PTSD, insomnia and even schizophrenia. This article will provide some insight into the mental health issues that are prevalent among Palestinians, the healthcare system and the possible solutions to help facilitate a better mental health response.

The Conditions 

Palestinians in the Occupied Territories live in a very volatile and unstable region. Recently, there has been an increase in the awareness of the effects that living through decades of continuous political aggression and violence have on mental health. Mental health disorders amount to one of the largest – but the least acknowledged – health problems in Occupied Palestine. Almost a third of Palestinians are in dire need of mental health interventions. However, mental health services in Occupied Palestine are amidst the most under-resourced fields of healthcare provision.

Palestinians have experienced a series of traumatic events that range from imprisonment and torture to unemployment, house demolitions and land confiscation. All these experiences foster an environment of continuous instability, stress, uncertainty and anxiety, which can dangerously affect mental health. 

Mental health is a concern for both adults and children in the Occupied Territories. Adults who are exposed to house demolitions exhibit a higher level of anxiety, depression and paranoia. However, the psychological effects of the conditions in Occupied Palestine are especially traumatizing for children. Many injured children have developed severe psychological impairments. The prevalence of behavioral issues and psychopathic symptoms among children is incredibly high. About 32.7% of children in the Gaza Strip suffer from severe levels of PTSD, 49% of children suffer through moderate levels of PTSD and 16% of children suffer from low levels of PTSD.

The Healthcare System

As of now, mental health services in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are provided by both the government and the non-governmental sector. General services are provided by the Ministry of Health but the majority of the system is operated under and funded by humanitarian organizations like UNRWA. There are only 13 community mental health clinics in the West Bank, and one psychiatric hospital in Bethlehem. In 2013, the clinics with outpatient facilities treated over 2400 patients. Of the 2,400 patients, 24.2% were diagnosed with neurotic disorders (PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder and clinical depression) and 12.2 % were diagnosed with schizophrenia. 

Generally, mental health services in Gaza and the West Bank are difficult to come by and inconsistent in quality. There is no legislation that addresses mental health and no budget allocated by the Ministry of Health. The region does not have mental health policies or an overview plan to address ongoing care and services for the severely mentally ill and those directly affected by trauma and loss. 

What Needs to Be Done 

The healthcare system in Palestine relies heavily on humanitarian aid and assistance. However, this funding and aid could easily be subjected to budget cuts from countries like the United States. Currently, the Ministry of Health does not allocate any funds to mental health services.

To effectively address mental health in Palestine, the government must create a fund for mental health services. The government should also promote legislation that addresses mental health. This legislation could include the protection of employment rights for those mentally ill, the integration of mental illness within the education system as well as civil legislation to address the rights to vote or own property.

It is also important for the Ministry of Health and NGOs to work together to create a comprehensive plan that addresses mental health. In collaboration, these organizations can acquire more hospital beds and help hospitals accommodate a greater number of patients. If mental health is made a priority, it can be effectively addressed in the coming years.

Nada Abuasi
Photo: Flickr

First FortnightIn the 2018 Health at a Glance report, Ireland tied third for the highest rates of mental health disorders in Europe. These include higher rates of anxiety, depression and other mental disorders, with 18.5% of the population having at least one of these disorders. First Fortnight is challenging this mental health statistic through creative means.

Mental Health Stigma

First Fortnight is a mental health charity organization based in Dublin. Tying together creative expression and awareness, the organization takes on the greatest challenge towards mental health: stigma.

The stigmatization of mental health prevents individuals from seeking the necessary help needed. Several factors impact the perception of mental health, such as personal experiences, media representation and culture. Portrayals of people with mental health disorders as dangerous or weak, hinders progress to creating a healthier world. Should this perception be negative, individuals become isolated and less inclined to seek proper treatment.

One of the main objectives of First Fortnight is to create an open environment for discussion about mental health. The space for these discussions allows perceptions towards mental health to be changed. Stigma can be dismantled through education and awareness, letting individuals be more than their defined diagnosis.

First Fortnight’s Mental Health Events and Initiatives

First Fortnight hosts annual festivals celebrating various art forms, and each year, the festivals grow in size. In 2020, the charity was able to organize over 60 events across Ireland with the help of more than 140 volunteers. Adapting to COVID-19, the organization will host its first virtual festival in January 2021. First Fortnight is hoping the change will allow it to reach a wider, global audience.

A proud achievement of the initiative is its Centre For Creative Therapies. This project utilizes art therapy to help the homeless populations. Working with a therapist, the client is given guidance and the ability to express themselves through art. This method allows individuals a safe and healthy outlet to process their emotions and share their experiences. Alongside art, the Centre For Creative Therapies also advocates for music therapy.

The organization’s work goes beyond Ireland. First Fortnight was one of 22 organizations to take part in the Network of European Festivals for Mental Health Life Enhancement (NEFELE). The NEFELE Project, founded by the European Union, aims to establish art festivals for mental health across Europe. In addition to its annual charity festivals, First Fortnight hosted the European Mental Health Arts and Cultural Festival. Taking place in January 2019, the festival saw over 12,000 in attendance.

First Fortnight has also been supportive of the Mental European Network of Sports (MENS) since 2017. MENS focuses on uplifting mental health through the encouragement of physical activity.

The Future of Mental Health in Ireland

First Fortnight recognizes the importance of policies put into place. As part of its mission, the organization develops research needed to implement effective change. With the charity’s help, the Irish Government is acknowledging the value of mental health services. The nation’s 2021 budget includes €38 million toward mental health funding.

– Kelli Hughes
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in KenyaIt is estimated that 11.5 million, or one in every four Kenyans, have experienced mental illness. Common mental health issues in Kenya include disorders due to substance abuse, neurotic and personality disorders, as well as dementia. However, the country has limited resources for those struggling with mental health issues. As of 2015, there were only around 12 neurologists and 100 psychiatrists in Kenya. Furthermore, mental health-related stigma decreases the accessibility of care since it can lead to discrimination. Greater awareness of mental health issues as well as providing more resources for those suffering from mental illnesses and disorders can aid in increasing the quality of life of those struggling with mental health issues in Kenya.

Mental Health Care Project

In 2015, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Forum on Neuroscience and Nervous System Disorders and Board on Global Health created a demonstration project with the goal of improving the state of mental health in Kenya. The project focused on mental, neurological and substance use (MNS) disorders in Kenya, specifically alcohol abuse, depression and epilepsy because of the high burden of these conditions. The project addresses the limitations of Kenya’s healthcare infrastructure, lack of availability of medication and data in regard to MNS disorders. Additionally, the project emphasizes the potential benefits of incorporating traditional and faith healers (TFHs) into the Kenyan healthcare system. Kenyans who struggle with mental illness often rely on TFHs for care because of their wide accessibility. Because TFHs are viewed with acceptance among communities, the project encourages the collaboration between TFHs and healthcare practitioners.

Mental Health Stigma

Kenyans living with mental disorders often experience stigma on multiple levels. Stereotypes surrounding those with mental illnesses lead to public stigma, especially since many people associate mental illnesses with evil. Furthermore, those struggling with mental disorders may internalize others’ negative perceptions of them, impacting how they view themselves and their overall quality of life since it can lead to loneliness and isolation. Stigma is a factor preventing Kenyans from receiving efficient treatment. Therefore, greater public education on mental disorders and providing more resources for treatment can improve the lives of those living with mental disorders in Kenya. A better understanding of mental health in Kenya will aid in the destigmatizing of mental disorders, leading to effective treatment.

Kenya’s  Mental Health Response

In 2005, in collaboration with WHO, Kenya created a program to implement mental health into the country’s healthcare system. This was done by training healthcare staff across the country. The outcome of the project proved the possibility of educating healthcare workers through courses in mental health.

Furthermore, in 2014, Kenya presented the Mental Health Bill, which proposed providing resources for those with mental illnesses, including treatment, care and rehabilitation. The law has yet to be enacted. If implemented, the legislation aims to address the inequality in mental healthcare and to ensure greater accessibility of mental health services in Kenya.

Despite the strides taken by the Kenyan Government to address mental health, it is necessary to further these efforts in order to improve the overall healthcare system. Greater awareness of mental illnesses and how they can be treated is imperative to advance mental healthcare in Kenya.

– Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Northern NigeriaNorthern parts of Nigeria have become the epicenter of brutal and violent attacks carried about by the notorious militant ISIS group, Boko Haram. Many victims are left with painfully traumatic memories that develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Functioning normally is impossible for those affected by PTSD and northeast Nigeria only has a single mental health institute. Nonprofits advocating for mental health in northern Nigeria have taken to Twitter and other forms of social media to provide guidance and healing to help bridge the gap.

Mental Health in Northern Nigeria

The treatment of mental illness and the ability to treat different disorders varies from country to country. In Nigeria, three of every 10 people suffer from mental illness. Constant disruptive violence weighs heavily on the psyche and with northern Nigeria becoming known as “Boko Haram’s Den” it is not surprising that a single facility cannot handle the number of people in need. Out of every 100,000 people, 17 of them commit suicide in Nigeria, ranking the country seventh in Africa for suicide.

The NEEM Foundation

Founded in 2017, the NEEM Foundation’s primary focus is to pave the road for mental health in Nigeria to improve, with free treatments primarily centering on victims of Boko Haram.

NEEM’s plan of action has been to send counselors and psychiatrists out on small motorized bikes to aid families affected by the terrorist group. These volunteers are also sent to families and individuals who escaped the group after being forced to join. The people that are lucky enough to escape from forced involvement submerge back into society without mental health check-ins or assessments, making them a possible danger to themselves or others. Mental health in Nigeria as a whole is not given enough funding to offer these services, despite the severity.

Last year alone, NEEM and its team of experts were able to provide care for 7,000 patients. Its work is primarily focused on children suffering from trauma due to the terrorist group, by setting up group therapy sessions for children and youth to attend. To boost available counselors, NEEM founded a nine-month training program in Maiduguri where college graduates of science or lay counselors are trained to become child psychologists. Adding more trained counselors and psychologists furthers NEEM’s reach and ability to give the mental healthcare needed by victims in Nigeria.

Moving Help Online

In total, the country of Nigeria only has eight mental health facilities, leaving a lot of ground to be covered by nonprofits like NEEM. The organization Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI) is using WhatsApp and Twitter in order to reach as many Nigerians in crises as possible and provide free mental health first aid.

Mental health in northern Nigeria is a problem that grows with its population of victims and refugees. By using free social media platforms in lieu of physical counseling, organizations are able to extend their reach to those in need.

– Amanda Rogers
Photo: Flickr