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Mental health

Mohammad was kidnapped by an armed group and spent several months in captivity before fleeing and reuniting with part of their family. Niger, August 2018. © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF
Mohammed was kidnapped by an armed group and spent several months in captivity before fleeing and reuniting with part of their family. Niger, August 2018. © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF

    In 1998, MSF formally recognized the need to implement psychological and psychosocial interventions as part of its emergency work. The psychological consequences can be severe for people who have experienced terrible events.

    Traumatising events – such as suffering or witnessing violence, the death of loved ones or the destruction of livelihoods – are likely to affect a person’s mental wellbeing. MSF provides psychosocial support to victims of trauma in an effort to reduce the likelihood of long-term psychological problems.
    Psychosocial care focuses on supporting patients to develop their own coping strategies after trauma. Counsellors help people to talk about their experiences, process their feelings and learn to cope so that general stress levels are reduced. MSF also offers group counselling, which is a complementary approach.

    Depression and anxiety

    Depression and anxiety can cripple these people, when they have to make decisions for their families and themselves. Mental health  is also included in the program for HIV / AIDS, tuberculosis, malnutrition, sexual violence, epidemics and disasters.

    MSF mental health care is aimed primarily at reducing the symptoms of patients and improve their ability to function. Often, this work is done by local counselors specially trained by MSF. MSF psychologists or psychiatrists provide them  with technical support and clinical supervision. When the case is appropriate, MSF counseling services may reinforce or complement mental health approaches that already exist in the local community. Meanwhile, clinicians support serious mental illness, but they represent only a minority of cases seen by MSF.

    Increased capacity

    People can seek help for many reasons: the heartbreaking loss of a child during an earthquake, the trauma of having been sexually abused, the living conditions in a violent conflict. MSF mental health specialists listen to their stories and help them find ways to overcome their grief and move on.

    The treatment of severely disturbed people remains a challenge for MSF teams, given the complexity of managing psychiatric drugs. Sometimes it is also difficult to ensure continuity of care in an unstable and unsafe environment.

    MSF staff provided 404,700 individual mental health consultations in 2018.