Mental illness is the most common non-communicable disease in the world, affecting 450 million people, yet it goes largely ignored and untreated as it quietly drains the strength from communities. In emergencies, the problem is greater still as the percentage of the population suffering severe mental disorders rises and those with pre-existing mental illnesses are exposed to new levels of stress.
As part of our holistic approach to health care International Medical Corps prioritises mental health needs in emergencies and integrates mental health into its community-based primary health care, providing specialised training, support and supervision to front-line practitioners and coordinating with local authorities.
International Medical Corps works with community leaders to understand cultural expressions of mental distress, and to establish mental health referral clinics attached to primary health care centres. International Medical Corps also works to de-stigmatise mental illness through community education and awareness programmes.
As one of the few international relief organisations to make mental health care a priority, even during emergencies, International Medical Corps has the capacity to address the immediate psychosocial needs of communities struck by disaster as well as identify and treat those with pre-existing mental health disorders.
How our work is transforming lives
A safe place for children in Lebanon
Following the war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, International Medical Corps immediately mobilised to address the mental health needs of thousands of conflict-affected Iraqi refugees and Lebanese host populations by establishing nine child-friendly spaces and seven community development centres. In coordination with the Ministry of Education, we also developed and delivered a comprehensive child friendly education and mental health training package to 450 school staff members from 28 schools, to address mental health issues stemming from the recent conflict. International Medical Corps currently trains local primary health care providers to diagnose, treat and refer mild-to-moderate cases of mental illness and disorders. We also established outreach and mobile mental health services to increase access to therapy for Iraqi refugees in need of clinic and home-based psychotherapeutic services.
Psychological First Aid
Psychological First Aid (PFA) was developed to teach first-responders and other front-line workers how to foster safe, positive, and supportive environments for survivors. Training in PFA gives people a better understanding of common reactions to stressful events, as well as how to listen in a supportive, empathetic way. For parents, there is guidance on how to help children cope, and more generally, when and how to refer someone who is experiencing severe distress. PFA also includes self-care tips for survivors and connects survivors to basic services where they can find psychosocial support.
As a first responder to more than 65 emergencies, International Medical Corps played a key role in developing and implementing the PFA approach. We helped develop the “Psychological First Aid Guide for Field Workers” that was recently released by the World Health Organisation and implemented PFA in natural disaster and conflicts including Haiti, Japan and Libya.
Early child development in Sierra Leone
Young children in low-resource settings, such as refugee or displacement communities, are particularly vulnerable to falling behind on important milestones in their physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. In Sierra Leone, International Medical Corps implemented an Early Child Development (ECD) programme, integrated with existing structures such as nutrition programs and community centres. ECD focuses on improving parent-child interactions and increasing parents’ knowledge about the child’s developmental milestones as well as emotional and cognitive needs.