The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has urged governments to prioritise mental health and psycho-social support during violence and armed conflict.
Concetta Feo, Mental Health and Psycho-social Support Delegate of ICRC, made the call in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Thursday in Abuja, in commemoration of the 2019 World Mental Health Day (WMHD).
The Day is celebrated annually on Oct. 10 to raise awareness on mental health, the theme for this year is “Prevent Suicide.”
First celebrated in 1992 at the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, a global mental health organisation with members and contacts in more than 150 countries, the Day is also for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma.
Mental health is the level of psychological well-being or an absence of mental illness. It is the state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioural adjustment.
Feo, therefore, said that the Day, with focus on suicide prevention, would give an opportunity to raise awareness on mental health issues and the scale of suicide around the world and how to prevent it.
She said mental health was a critical part of humanitarian assistance and an integral component of domestic and international emergency response systems.
She noted that “violence affects mental health and in Nigeria, where there is an ongoing violence in some areas, many people are affected by the condition and are exposed to many risks.
“In Adamawa, Borno and Taraba, mental health and sensitisation programmes are being carried out by volunteers who are trained and supervised by ICRC staff.
“We experience cases of dementia, depression, anxiety, post traumatic symptoms, schizophrenia which is a chronic psychiatric condition which becomes severe when it affects daily living conditions.”
The mental health expert stressed that victims of violence and armed conflict experience sadness, loss of loved ones, fear of safety, hunger and attack, which could result to low moods and interest, leading to depression and anxiety.
Feo said “ICRC organises circles of psycho-social support programmes for displaced individuals and community members, where they are placed in small safe groups of 12 people with an opportunity to share their experiences and challenges, while finding succour.”
According to her, 570 victims of violence in Adamawa, including men, women and youths, benefited from ICRC psycho-social support, with 79 per cent of them feeling less distressed and 72 per cent improved in functionality.
She explained that “there is no health without mental health”, stressing that food, water and shelter are important but without good mental health condition, all other basic needs could be affected.
ICRC President, Peter Maurer, in his message to mark the Day, said mental health services had been an afterthought in conflict settings.
He said “when traumas are invisible, they could easily be overlooked or deprioritised. Yet war has a devastating impact on the mental health and psycho-social wellbeing of millions.
“New mental health problems can appear, and pre-existing conditions may resurface, for some the effects will be life-threatening.
“Supporting people’s mental health can be lifesaving in times of war and violence, just as much as stemming a bleeding wound or having clean water. Hidden wounds are no less dangerous.”
Maurer said more than one out of five people in conflict-affected areas live with some form of mental health condition, from mild depression and anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder.
He added that millions were suffering from these conditions worldwide.
The ICRC president, therefore, emphasised that mental health and psycho-social needs for people caught up in conflicts must be part of growing attention given to mental health around the world. (NAN)