Whether in war zones, rural communities, or urban neighborhoods, mental health is a vital part of life—but it often goes unaddressed. Learn about lesser-known challenges to mental health and how communities are addressing them.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and since 1949, health providers have worked to explain why and how mental health is important.
Here are three surprising statistics about mental health:
People who survive the trauma of living in a conflict zone can face detrimental psychological effects.
Today, approximately 2 billion people worldwide live in areas of armed conflict. The violence caused by these conflicts often forces displacement of people in the area and damages crucial infrastructure like public health services. An estimated 89.3 million people were forcibly displaced by the end of 2021 because of conflict, persecution, or other forms of violence. About 60% of these people remained internally displaced in their country.
Studies have shown that exposure to armed conflict, forced displacement, and associated challenges like unemployment and social isolation make people more vulnerable to psychosocial distress. This distress is evident in the rates of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which are two to three times higher among people who experience armed conflict.
Since 2018, the nonprofit Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights has been providing essential mental health and medical services to survivors of war and violence through its center in Qamishili in northeast Syria. For more than 10 years, the war in the region has left millions of people displaced, kidnapped, or killed.
The Jiyan Foundation’s treatment center in Qamishili provides direct relief and mental health services to survivors of the ongoing atrocities caused by conflict. Their local staff works to reduce the stigma of mental health treatment and provide necessary interventions.
“We must provide mental health support alongside traditional relief services.”
In February, the foundation began coordinating with the local authorities to provide trauma treatment and mental health support to displaced people arriving in Qamishili after the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.
“The tragic earthquake in Syria has created even more hardship for many survivors already traumatized by war and terror in the region,” Chairman and Founder Salah Ahmad reported. “Survivors of violence and terror live with heightened anxiety and trauma that are only exasperated by the unforeseen difficulties of being displaced.”
Trauma is not exclusive to survivors of war, where its cause is apparent. That’s why mental health awareness is important. Stressors around certain professions can increase the likelihood of psychological trauma.
Livelihoods that depend on unpredictable forces, like farming, can be taxing. That’s especially true in times of extreme weather like drought, bushfires, and floods. The long and irregular hours that many farmers work alone can enforce social isolation and make stress harder to deal with. Added pressures of extreme events like market fluctuations or natural disasters can sometimes seem overwhelming.
In Sri Lanka, tea is one of the main exports, accounting for 2% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2021. The tea business employs more than 1 million people who are paid painfully low wages. Sri Lanka is now experiencing its worst economic crisis, and the cost of living is unaffordable for many families working on the tea estates that cover about 222,000 hectares of the country.
The nonprofit Tea Leaf Trust works with families from tea estate communities in Sri Lanka. Their project to protect mental health actively works to help 350 students develop vocational skills and cultivate emotional and psychological resilience. Nearly 80% of Tea Leaf Trust’s students live off of less than $1 a day, and structural racism hinders their employment opportunities. More than three-quarters of the students have an alcoholic in their household and experience abuse in the home. These are among the factors that put young people from the tea estates at greater risk of self-harm and suicide than other groups in the country.
Over the past 12 years, more than 82% of Tea Leaf Trust alumni have been employed by a number of high-profile companies, offered positions in universities, or received other specialist training. Most importantly, Tea Leaf Trust has seen a sharp decline in rates of suicide among its alumni.
“An educated young person has an incredible ripple effect on the rest of the tea estate community,” the trust shared in a report. “Graduates gain employment off the tea estates, double their income, help to lift their family out of financial hardship, and start working towards becoming leaders in their communities to drive positive change. This is especially important now as Sri Lanka struggles with record-high inflation and shortages of basic necessities.”
There is a growing awareness of why mental health is important for health care personnel, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The intense pressure and elevated danger brought on by the pandemic caused thousands of health care professionals to die and elevated already high numbers of reported burnout.
The nature of their job puts health care professionals in distressing environments that cause physical, emotional, and psychological fatigue. This stress is due to factors like excessive workloads, administrative burdens, limited control of their schedule, and lack of support. It is predicted that by 2033, there will be a shortage of up to 139,000 professionals in the United States alone. The gaps will be most prominent in primary care and in rural communities.
More than half of health care workers report symptoms of burnout, and many contend with insomnia, depression, anxiety, PTSD, or other mental health challenges. The elevated risk increases the likelihood that they’ll leave the health workforce early.
The fact that public health is chronically underfunded adds to the strain.
In Mexico, where the nonprofit Atentamente Consultores works, funding for services is low. That means material and human resources are scarce, and hospitals are overcrowded. As health care professionals in these facilities operate under tremendous pressure to provide quality health care to the surging number of patients, their mission takes a toll on their mental health. Atentamente Consultores’ project focused on burnout relief works to support them.
Following the ABCD framework (Attention, Kindness, Clarity, and Direction) Atentamente developed, the program equips more than 1,000 health care providers throughout Mexico with skills to better manage stress and difficult emotions. By strengthening interpersonal relationships and cultivating emotional resilience, these workers can improve their mental well-being—and their ability to care for their patients.
“Our programs for addressing stress and burnout in health care professionals has been selected by the Templeton World Charity Foundation to form one of the world largest randomized control trials to assess the impact of mental health for health care providers,” Atentamente shared.
“With the techniques that I have learned in this course, I am more relaxed, I enjoy my work and my family more, I am more focused and with better results, and I no longer feel burnout as I did before.”
– Ángeles, Atentamente program participant
As understanding grows about how mental health is important, work to spread awareness and destigmatize care will continue. And community-based support from organizations like Atentamente Consultores, Tea Leaf Trust, and Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights will be vital for those who need help.
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