Mental health: Just as important as physical health

Mental health: Just as important as physical health

War and violence destroy communities and countries all over the world, and have a devastating impact on the mental health of millions of people.
Article 10 October 2019

When traumas are invisible, they can be easily overlooked or deprioritized. Yet war and disaster have a devastating impact on the mental health and psychosocial well-being of millions.

New mental health problems can appear, and pre-existing conditions may resurface. For some the effects will be life-threatening.

In places affected by conflict, one in five people live with some form of mental health condition. That's three times more than the general population worldwide.

But in low- and middle-income countries where most humanitarian crises occur, mental health and psychosocial support services are underprioritized and underfunded with an average of two mental health workers per 100,000 people.

As a result, two thirds of people with severe mental health conditions in these countries go without any treatment.

This lack of treatment also increases stigma, exclusion and discrimination. The consequences of which can severely impact a person's safety, dignity, and health and further undermine the ability of communities and states to appropriately address mental health and psychosocial challenges.

Mental health support must be included in the first wave of humanitarian assistance. This is why the ICRC has developed a mental health and psychosocial support programme that is implemented during and after armed conflict and other situations of violence.

Farhana helps people cope with life on the front line in Ukraine. Photo: ICRC

We also address psychological and psychosocial needs at the individual, family, and community level, promoting their own coping mechanisms; and preventing further mental health and psychosocial problems. Our interventions are culturally adapted and use a participatory approach, as we are aware that Western approaches to psychology might not always be the best fit.

Quality mental health care requires specialized mental health professionals; as well as local health and community groups that provide frontline community-based support. - Peter Maurer

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73% of millennials in 15 countries say mental health is as important as water, food and shelter.