international youth day
On Aug. 12,  the U.N. hosted an International Youth Day event at its headquarters in New York City. The event focused on the importance of addressing the mental health concerns of youth around the world, thus making them less susceptible to homelessness, crime and conflict situations.

The theme of this year’s International Youth Day was “Mental Health Matters.” The half-day event in New York City brought together young people, youth organizations, U.N. Member State representatives, civil society and U.N. entities for a series of presentations including panelists and young artist performances.

This event marked the official launch of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs publication, Social Inclusion of Youth with Mental Health Conditions.

The report reveals “one-fifth of the young people around the world experience a mental health condition, with risks especially great during the transition from childhood to adulthood.”

The U.N. seeks to banish the stigma that plagues those suffering from mental illness. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned in his opening remarks that failing to address access to mental health services makes affected youth “more vulnerable to poverty, violence, and social exclusion, and negatively impacting society as a whole.”

International Youth Day was marked overseas at a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Somalia, where the mental health of the young is of particular concern. Somali youth face violence and crime on a daily basis, and many are forced to join military groups or survive on the streets.

A traumatic childhood, like that experienced by youth in Somalia, breeds mental illness. According to Philippe Lazzarini, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia, “We must be clear that what we need is nothing less than a paradigm shift in policies and attitudes towards the role of youth in order to empower and place them at the core of the development agenda.”

The population of those 25 years of age or younger is growing in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where young people are 70 percent of the civilian body. It is especially important for countries like the DRC to focus on mental health because the youth “are not only the Congo of tomorrow, but also the Congo of today,” said a U.N. representative from the country.

The World Health Organization recommends a range of specific actions that should be integrated into national development plans in order to break the cycle of debilitating mental illness. These strategies include supporting access to school for children with mental disabilities, integrating mental health issues into broader health policies and creating employment for those suffering from mental illness.

Assembly President John Ashe summed up the objective of this year’s International Youth Day, urging, “We should be especially focused on addressing the needs of youth with mental health conditions, many of whom experience discrimination on a daily basis. We must work together to ensure that young people with mental health conditions can lead full and healthy lives.”

Grace Flaherty

Sources: World Health Organization, United Nations, UN DESA
Photo: Idealist Careers

mental health
Mental health is a largely neglected concern in many African countries. Efforts are often allocated in favor of more publicized issues such as HIV/AIDS, water sanitation and maternal health. Thus, those living with mental disorders are oppressed by media, social stigma, and government disinterest. Many fail to recognize that general and mental health are inseparable. To fight poverty successfully, both issues must be dealt with equal significance.

Sierra Leone only offers one psychiatric hospital to its citizens and its distance and limited space is discouraging. Sierra Leone’s mental health system is lacking and after its decade-long civil war, restorations and improvements to the country’s policy and infrastructure are imperative. Recently, new mental health initiatives are surfacing in Sierra Leone’s communities thanks to the vision and leadership organizations and individuals provided.

University of Makeni’s Department of Mental Health is part of the Catholic Church-run private university in Sierra Leone. It is a far-reaching department that coordinates counseling activities for those in need and mental health training for nurses.

Makeni Mental Health Department endeavors to stimulate development in political, economic, social and religious aspects in Africa. The department was conceived by the Fatima Institute which also started the Mental Health, Behavioral Change and Social Inclusion Programme. The program hosts various events and activities including counseling, sensitization and training in their movement to eliminate social stigma people living with mental health illness face. Promoting positive behavioral change is also an integral part of the program’s philosophy.

Children’s mental health is part of the keystone to a nation’s future. The Child Protection Knowledge and Information Network (CPKIN) strives to evaluate and better understand how to improve support systems for vulnerable children. In a post-war environment, many children are displaced from family or have lost their family altogether. These children have seen and experienced physical and sexual abuse, often leaving a wound in their mental health. Their weakened psyches make them subject to further exploitation.

CPKIN is a project developed by a coalition between UNICEF, Child Fund Sierra Leone and the Ministry of Social Welfare’s Gender and Children’s Affairs. CPKIN connects internal children’s mental health support in communities and villages with the formal child protection sector. Text message technology will serve as the backbone of this communication system between village chiefs, child protection volunteers and the sector.

Questions will be sent to chiefs and volunteers via text messages in order to prompt these members of the support system to discuss and critically evaluate the efforts being done for the children’s well-being. CPKIN is a dynamic survey because members are able to evaluate and improve their efforts on a community level, while the responses they send through text messaging is used to improve the Child Protection Policy on the political level.

Sierra Leone’s government has also outlined a new mental health policy, which intends to make mental health services a part of the public health sector. The document acknowledges the severity of Sierra Leone’s neglect to mental health and the importance of mental health in living a holistically sustainable life.

In lengthy detail, the policy document assesses the meager situation of those afflicted by mental health disorders, general and specific objectives, areas for action (treatment, rehabilitation, etc.), required services, as well as long- and short-term goals.

It is an optimistic initiative full of promise as it recognizes the social and economic barriers faced by those living with mental illness and acknowledges the stakeholders in need, such as mothers, children and those with HIV/AIDS.

It is a document that proves the government is well aware of the issues encasing mental health. However, there is an arduous trek separating promise and reality. It will take time before the policy is fully realized but the announcement of this policy is definitely something to celebrate.

Mental health support initiatives in Sierra Leone range from direct aid to policy reform. It’s enriching to see such solid growth of mental health support in Sierra Leone but there is still much to be done before the nation can haul itself into a stabilized future.

– Carmen Tu

Sources: Harvard Center for International Development, IPA, WHO, Republic of Sierra Leone
Photo: The New York Times Blog

postpartum depression
Mental health is not only one of the most overlooked facets of health around the globe, but also one of the most important features of holistic health. Although depression, the most prevalent mental illness, is the leading cause of disability in the world, the U.S. spends less than $2 per person on researching and investing in mental health. Unfortunately, the developing world has even less to spend on making its people mentally well.

This is a problem for mothers in low-income countries who develop postpartum depression. According to the World Health Organization, 20-40 percent of women in developing nations experience postpartum depression, which is the moderate to severe depressive state induced by childbirth. That figure likely does not account for the women who suffer in silence, as postpartum depression – like all depression – is highly stigmatized in many corners of the globe and is one of many reasons that affected women may not seek treatment.

Studies from the University of Michigan show a high correlation between maternal mental health and the health outcomes of their children. The children of mothers who live with postpartum depression are at significantly higher risk of child mortality, malnutrition and chronic illness.

To raise awareness about maternal mental health, an organization called Postpartum Progress hosted an event on June 21 in which it encouraged women around the world to hike or climb mountains in order to symbolize the “climb out of darkness” that women experience when they recover from postpartum depression. This event is the largest in the world that creates awareness about the intersection between mental and perinatal health. Though solving postpartum depression for mothers around the world will require much more than awareness, this event is an honorable first step in the right direction. The next steps needed are the infrastructure for treatment and long-term recovery options.

Making mental health a priority in the developing world is crucial to seeing poverty become less prevalent. Mothers suffering from postpartum depression have decreased ability to seek or keep employment, take care of their families and access other resources. The declining health of children with suffering mothers may also pull other family members out of the workforce as they stay home to care for both mother and child. In order to see a world free of poverty, international global health campaigns must address all mental illnesses, including postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression is an overlooked issue, but with increased attention to all mental health threats, it is an issue that can be resolved. Mothers in the developing world deserve the same care and attention we give to those affected by more well-known conditions, such as malaria. By attending to the needs of women with postpartum depression, we create a better world and a more prosperous future for not only them, but their children as well.

— Elise L. Riley

Sources: University of Michigan, One
Photo: Humanosphere

In order to improve and manage community health, health advocates help organize a plethora of services ranging from health events to educational experiences. Advocates come in many different forms and settings. For instance, health advocates are generally doctors and nurses though other health advocates may come from a different professional background, such as social work. However, health advocates can also come from a background unrelated to medicine, so long as the individual is burgeoning with a passion that centers on raising awareness of health-related issues.

Individuals who work as health advocates will typically aid clients in improving their health care experience by ensuring that clients not only learn about but also have an opportunity to access available programs and resources. According to SoCal Health Advocates, individuals in this field often endeavor to improve the lives of clients by breaking down barriers that prevent people from access to quality healthcare in order to prevent serious illness or prevent relapses.

However, health advocacy is not limited to only physical health. Due to its nature of stigmatization, great effort has been expended into improving mental health advocacy as well. According to the World Health Organization, it is crucial for advocacy efforts to continue educating the public about mental illness in order to truly revolutionize not only the manner in which mental health is perceived but also improve access to mental health treatments.

As part of its mental health advocacy efforts, the WHO has created MiNDbank, an online resource that has pooled together information regarding global policies and services regarding mental health. One of the goals of MiNDbank is to facilitate open debate and discussion about mental health topics in order to promote human rights for mental health patients as well as improving the mental healthcare system as a whole.

It is imperative for advocates to work towards eliminating the stigma and ignorance regarding mental illness, particularly since individuals with mental disabilities are subject to maltreatment and discrimination on a daily basis. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, legal institutions have been unable to protect the basic human rights of these individuals.

Although the United States struggles with the burden of a stigmatized and under-funded mental healthcare system, many countries, lack adequate mental health facilities due to even greater stigma and a general lack of awareness. Therefore, mental health advocates strive to inform society about mental illness in order to reverse the disagreeable image of mental health patients, and ultimately, construct a more efficient, more understanding and more accessible global mental healthcare system.

Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: SoCal Health Advocates, World Health Organization
Photo: IIR Healthcare

The United States has waged a drone campaign in Pakistan since the early 2000’s. The Waziristan region in northern Pakistan has been a specific target due to the major presence of the Taliban in the area. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London released a report indicating that drone strikes carried out by the U.S. have killed 3,581 people since 2004. That number includes 884 civilians and 197 children. Unsurprisingly, this has led to a rise in mental health issues.

The Huffington Post reported a story of a man who lost nine friends and relatives in one attack in 2009. While Mohammed Fahim was in another room, a drone hit his house, killing everyone else instantly. Fahim insists that his family had no ties to Islamist militancy, but instead that this was an attack that went astray.

Residents in Waziristan complain of living in a constant fear of drones, specifically citing the buzzing sound they emit when they fly overhead. This fear is leading to a rise in depression, anxiety, and in some cases psychotic episodes. Doctor Muktar ul-Haq is the head of psychiatry at a government hospital in the city of Peshawar. He told a story of a man who had a full blown psychotic episode after he found a SIM card outside of his house. A common rumor in Pakistan is that SIM cards emit signals to drones, guiding their attack. Haq said when the man was admitted he was “aggressive and paranoid.”

The social problems that plague Pakistan, such as poverty, Taliban violence, and unemployment, contribute to the rise in depression and anxiety. With all of these other problems, mental health falls to the bottom of the list. There are no official statistics about the rise in mental health issues, but some psychiatrists treating people in the region estimate that rates psychological illnesses have risen three fold.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: Huffington Post, The Atlantic
Photo: CS Monitor

TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a global set of conferences owned by the private nonprofit organization Sapling Foundation. Under the slogan “ideas worth spreading,” TED events are held throughout the world, addressing a variety of topics, from science and culture to health, medicine, and global development. Here are some of the most memorable quotes made by TED speakers on the topic of poverty and development.

1.       “You don’t wake up one day no longer a racist. It takes generations to tear that intuition, that DNA, out of a soul of a people.”

Lawrence Lessig: We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim

2.       “I’d grown up thinking that a [sanitary toilet] was my right, when in fact it’s a privilege — 2.5 billion people worldwide have no adequate toilet.”

Rose George: Let’s talk crap. Seriously.

3.       “Child mortality [since 2000 is] down by 2.65 million a year. That’s a rate of 7,256 children’s lives saved each day. … It drives me nuts that most people don’t seem to know this news.”

Bono: The good news on poverty (Yes, there’s good news)

4.       “What you do [to provide better aid is] you shut up. You never arrive in a community with any ideas.”

Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!

5.       “The challenge of development: abject poverty surrounded by corruption.”

Sanjay Pradhan: How open data is changing international aid

6.       “I have never met a villager who does not want a vote.”

Rory Stewart: Why democracy matters

7.       “You don’t have to get rich to have [fewer] children. It has happened across the world.”

Hans Rosling: Religions and babies

8.       “We get so little news about the developing world that we often forget that there are literally millions of people out there struggling to change things to be fairer, freer, more democratic, less corrupt.”

Alex Steffen: The route to a sustainable future

9. “Connectivity is productivity — whether it’s in a modern office or an underdeveloped village.”

Iqbal Quadir: How mobile phones can fight poverty

10. “We’ve seen how distributed networks, big data and information can transform society. I think it’s time for us to apply them to water.”

Sonaar Luthra: Meet the Water Canary

11. “Birth control has almost completely and totally disappeared from the global health agenda, and the victims of this paralysis are the people of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.”

Melinda Gates: Let’s put birth control back on the agenda

12. “Human development, not secularization, is what’s key to women’s empowerment in the transforming Middle East.”

Dalia Mogahed: The attitudes that sparked Arab Spring

13. “The United Street Sellers Republic — the USSR — [would be] the second-largest economy in the world after the United States.”

Robert Neuwirth: The power of the informal economy

14. “We need to deliver [mental] health care using whoever is available and affordable in our local communities.”

Vikram Patel: Mental health for all by involving all

15. “It was the buildings [in Haiti], not the earthquake, that killed 220,000 people, that injured 330,000, that displaced 1.3 million people, that cut off food and water and supplies for an entire nation.”

Peter Haas: Haiti’s disaster of engineering

– Nayomi Chibana
Feature Writer 


Read global poverty quotes.

Sources: TED, Reddit
Photo: Lingholic

Mental healthcare is important to development. Last month, the World Health Organization adopted the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan of 2013-2020 to emphasize the importance of global mental health and to establish goals pertaining to mental healthcare.  The Action Plan is the first ever to make mental health its primary concern.

The main objectives of the Action Plan are to “implement strategies for promotion and prevention in mental health”, provide necessary mental health care when needed, and to strengthen research for mental health.

The Action Plan was created due to the fact that much of global health care overlooks mental health problems as a serious concern. The World Health Organization states that “people with mental and psychological disabilities are a vulnerable group as a result of the way they are treated by society”.

Those with mental disabilities are more likely to face physical and sexual victimization, and often times have trouble with school performance and finding employment, leading to a higher risk of living in poverty. On a larger scale, a lack of adequate mental health care for those in need can lead to “reduced social capital” and “hindered economic development”.

In order to reduce the risk of those with mental disabilities living in poverty, the World Health Organization seeks to incorporate adequate mental health support into schools in addition to making opportunities for employment available to those with mental disabilities. While many development efforts focus on ensuring that physical needs are met, the importance of mental health must not be overlooked.  When adequate mental health care is available to those in need, the individuals affected, their families, and their communities experience improved development outcomes.

Jordan Kline

Sources: WHO, Forbes

Mental Illness Affected More By Poverty Than War
The citizens of Afghanistan have now weathered a 12-year war in the country and, as U.S. and as NATO forces prepare to pull out by the end of 2014, a new study confirms that poverty and vulnerability are more significant to the development of mental illness and anxiety than exposure to war.

The study, focusing on war and mental health in Afghanistan, says that war is undoubtedly an identifiable precursor to mental illness, but that poverty and vulnerability are actually “stronger and probably more persistent risk factors that have not received deserved attention in policy decisions,” said Dr. Jean-Francois Trani.

The study elaborates on the origins of mental illness and political violence, saying that unemployment and lack of access to resources contribute to the absence of one’s place in a social hierarchy, which leads to mental anguish that, in turn, can cause young people to act violently towards any government or institutions of authority.

The study calls these social and cultural predetermined factors “social exclusion mechanisms,” and maintains that these factors were in place before war began, but are exacerbated by military conflict. The researchers recommend that policymakers take into account all factors of these at-risk groups to create a more stable and self-sufficient Afghanistan.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Washington University in Saint Louis
Photo: Trends Updates