World Mental Health Day 2018

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières provides care and counselling to people around the world

Wednesday, October 10 is World Mental Health Day.

In the places where Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) operates, we often treat people who have mental illness or have had to confront distressing situations such as extreme violence, trauma, loss or displacement.

Mental health support can be crucial to help people cope. People seek help for many reasons — the agonizing loss of a child in an earthquake, the trauma of violence or surviving a dangerous journey. Our teams can provide mental health and psychosocial support through group sessions or individual consultations. MSF’s mental health care aims primarily to reduce people’s symptoms and improve their ability to manage a difficult time so they can get on with their lives.

Bangladesh: Rohingya trauma and resilience

Just over one year ago, Rohingya Muslims living in Myanmar were forced to flee after they were targeted by an orchestrated campaign of brutal ethnic violence. Hundreds of thousands crossed into Bangladesh, where now close to one million Rohingya refugees remain confined to crowded displacement camps along the border between the two countries. Despite the high level of trauma experienced by the Rohingya in Myanmar, only a small proportion of the population in Bangladesh currently has access to specialized mental health services.

In July-August 2018, celebrated photographer Robin Hammond and MSF organized a six-day workshop in Kutupalong refugee camp, in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district. During a storytelling workshop, Rohingya refugees were encouraged to tell their own stories relating to mental health through photography.

This photo story highlights some of the people we met and the stories they told.

Photo Story: Rohingya trauma and resilience in Bangladesh

Mental health care for asylum seekers and others on Nauru

On October 5, 2018, after 11 months of providing mental health care on Nauru, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was informed by the Nauruan government that our services for Nauruans, asylums seekers and refugees were “no longer required” and requested that our activities cease within 24 hours. At this stage, MSF wishes to reiterate our strong commitment to providing quality mental health care to all those in need on the island. We are extremely concerned that the health of our patients may be affected by this decision and urge the authorities to grant us permission to continue our lifesaving work.

South Sudan: Mental health care for demobilized child soldiers 

In South Sudan’s Yambio county, child soldiers who were forced to fight during the country’s long civil war are being demobilized. These children would like to return to their old lives, but some struggle with all that they have experienced.

MSF is running a mental health support program to help them come to terms with their experiences as they reintegrate their communities.

MSF mental health care: Helping Yambio's child soldiers face their pasts and their future

Violence, disappearances and displacement: MSF primary and mental health care for survivors, migrants and families in Mexico

Mexico has one of the world's highest number of cases of enforced disappearance. Currently there are more than 37,000 such cases that have been reported. In the last five years, this problem has increased due to an increase in complex violence perpetrated by government forces and criminal groups. In an MSF project in Reynosa, in the north of the country, our teams offer mental health care to the families of missing persons and witness the impact this has on their lives.

A buried pain: Caring for patients grieving for missing family members in Reynosa, Mexico

Migrants who make their way through Guatemala and into Mexico do not find any guarantee of safety. 

As the number of people fleeing violence and poverty in Central America grows, the Mexican government has clamped down on the country’s southern border, with support from the United States. Police and military surveillance and law enforcement — coupled with widespread corruption and suspicion of collusion with cartels and maras operating in the southern Mexican states of Oaxaca, Veracruz and Tabasco —

MSF teams provide primary health care and psychosocial services along the migration route through Mexico, treating patients at the La 72 migrant shelter in Tenosique, at the FM4 shelter in Guadalajara, and, via mobile clinics, at the Casa del Migrante shelter in Coatzacoalcos. These sites serve as oases of sorts for people making the dangerous journey north. But as violence near the border with Guatemala and along the migration route has escalated, it’s become clear that some patients have greater medical needs. People who have been exposed to extreme violence—torture, kidnapping, rape, psychological abuse—require comprehensive, specialized, and integrated care. 

MSF primary and mental health care: Tending deep wounds in Mexico

MSF Pulse: Caring for the Caregivers — access to mental health care for MSF's own staff

For our own medical staff and field workers, working in high-stress environments and witnessing human suffering can take its toll.

In this episode of MSF Pulse, we look at how we make sure all our staff members have access to mental health care and counselling: