September 10, 2020

The far-reaching impact of COVID-19 has led leaders and donors throughout the world to consider the mental health toll of grief, anxiety, and trauma in a much more concerted way than has probably ever been done. As a clinical psychologist who designs and implements mental health and psychosocial programs internationally, I am grateful for the current light shining on mental health needs. Two experiences stand out to me when I think about how far-reaching foundational mental health and psychosocial struggles are to all human beings.

The first happened in the Philippines in 2018. Our project team brought together participants in a youth workforce development program for a focus group about their mental health experiences. Several brought up hopelessness and depression, so I asked, delicately but directly, how many had considered suicide at some point in their lives. My colleagues were shocked to see that more than half of the youth raised their hands. The staff had known these young people for years, but since they had never asked about their mental health struggles, no one knew their full extent of pain.

The second happened in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2019. I was conducting our Teacher Resilience Training and used examples of coping with trauma related to the widespread violence by rebel groups there. Several participants asked to talk with me alone afterward. I emotionally prepared myself to hear difficult disclosures of horrific wartime violence. To my surprise, the topics raised were grief over a husband who married a second wife, anxiety regarding finding a new job, and grief related to infertility. None mentioned community violence as their problem of the moment to deal with, although all had experienced it. Instead, they were focused on their present lives. They weren’t denying that previous trauma had affected them. They were prioritizing their current struggles in order to advance their life goals.

In both cases, I was surprised by the mental health needs that participants expressed, and gratified that through careful discussion and support, we could offer help. This is the reason that funding for mental health services and innovation needs concerted support from every government and funding priority from every donor. We all want to have fulfilling lives, and our mental health affects our ability to work and contribute to our economies, raise healthy children, be supportive partners, and be active and positive contributors to our communities. We need mental health programming in schools, communities, and health systems to support our different needs.

Let us continue to encourage donors and governments to increase their commitments to addressing the mental health of those they serve and pledge to welcome disclosures of those who need help, all the while remembering that we are all seeking the same kinds of fulfillment.

Heidi Kar is a licensed clinical psychologist and an international mental health expert at EDC.
Behavioral, Physical, and Mental Health

2 Replies


Replying to:
Jerry Reed
One point I was left with after reading your blog is that no matter the environmental conditions present where one lives, much emotional pain is "local." We must start with where the patient is and not assume that some external environmental event is the source of that pain. Well done! Thanks for writing this blog.

Replying to:
Heidi Kar
Jerry - thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. Yes, even when we have all of the right intentions, we all assume too much, especially when it comes to how someone thinks, feels, or is coping with past experiences. It is incredible to see how resilient the human soul and psyche are - and the work EDC is doing all over the world to build mental health coping skills and flexible thinking skills is purposely general in focus to allow for individuals to apply the new evidence-based approaches in their own ways, at the times they need them most.

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