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Mental health is as essential as the air we breathe

Helping Nyadiena feel the sun again

Daneal Lightner, content writer

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“The tragedy I endured took everything from me. I stopped living. I only existed. I was brought to my knees and there was nothing I could do.”

Nyadiena was just a child when her only brother was killed in the violent civil war that has ravaged Sudan for more than 30 years.

Shortly after that loss, her father passed away, leaving her an orphan with no family and no home in a community devastated by war.

With nowhere else to go, she sought refuge in the Pugnido refugee camp, overcrowded with others facing similar and overwhelming losses. She took nothing with her but painful memories.

Around the world, Bethany works urgently to protect children like Nyadiena and their families. Some are refugees, others have been trafficked, and many are living in extreme poverty.

Though the circumstances of their pain vary, the foundation of their future success lies in their ability to process trauma and build the mental and emotional strength to heal.

Because of this, mental health support is foundational to every service and program Bethany offers to protect children, empower youth, and strengthen families with an impact that lasts.

After the agony of war, the loss of her family and home, and the challenges of living alone in a refugee camp, Nyadiena says, “Nothing made sense anymore. The sun was no longer warm and food had lost its flavor. Though I knew I needed to try to put my life back together, my broken heart did not know where to start. I wished it would all be over.”

In response to the crisis in South Sudan, Bethany responded with mental health services for those, like Nyadiena, who’d lost their way, drive, and will to live. From August 2018 to the end of 2022, our teams of trained mental health professionals walked alongside those suffering from lasting trauma, offering compassion, an ear to hear their stories, and skills to cope with the pain.

A deep grief like Nyadiena’s is hard to endure. And it’s impossible to overcome without tools and knowledge.

During a humanitarian crisis, access to basic necessities like food and water is critical. But what if a starving person won’t eat? Food, shelter, water, and physical health care are essential. But in the face of crisis, they aren’t enough.

Mental health is as essential as the food we eat and the air we breathe.

Bethany staff met Nyadiena as she was living under a tent—alone, broken, and despondent. She was offered the mental and emotional support she needed to process what she’d lived through. After several counseling services, she began to open up.

Slowly, her inner wounds began to heal. And eventually, she could feel the sun again. “I learned how to deal with the numbness that had overtaken me and how to properly deal with grief.”

Each session gave her a new tool for her toolbox. “I started connecting myself with my surroundings. I began communicating with others in similar situations. We supported one another. I had no idea something as simple as breathing could help keep me grounded.”

With help, Nyadiena found peace and comfort in gardening. It connected her to loving memories of her father and brother. Once she began to heal, the rest of her life slowly started falling into place. She found ways to generate income, make friends—find joy in life again.

Without the support to heal mentally and emotionally, any other effort to help her gain stability would’ve been futile. Mental and emotional health were the foundation Nyadiena needed to live and thrive again.

During our time serving the people of South Sudan, more than 68,000 individuals and families were helped. Those who accessed mental health services saw a tremendous improvement in their entire well-being.

Through train-the-trainer services, we equipped the Pugnido camp residents to continue facilitating mental health services, making the project sustainable even after our engagement ended. To achieve lasting results, it’s critical that people in the region have continued access to mental health services.

We celebrate the successes we saw in the Pugnido refugee camp. Many hearts and minds have healed and lives have been saved through the mental health aid provided through Bethany.

But we can do more. And we should do more.

Millions of children and adults around the world are suffering from the effects of trauma that they cannot fix on their own. And living through or in a constant state of crisis can cause pain so deep that navigating the aftermath of emotions and memories can become a lifelong process. Without continued support to heal and utilize the skills to face future crises, it’s nearly impossible for families and children to maintain stability.

The world has far to go in normalizing, destigmatizing, and prioritizing mental health. Resources to provide these essential services are limited. With more support, mental health aid can be provided in the earliest stages of emergency response.

With earlier access, survivors receive tools to cope with their pain and begin the healing process sooner preventing further trauma. They begin rebuilding their lives with better chances of lasting success.

Mental health aid is not a one-time service or quick fix. It’s a process. And it can take years for efforts to become fully effective. Prioritizing mental health is an invaluable tool in

  • Reducing poverty
  • Building peace
  • Addressing and preventing violence
  • Reconstructing communities and economies that have been damaged

Sound mental and emotional health is foundational to human well-being. When it is finally treated as such, the wounded people and regions of the world might finally experience true healing and lasting change.

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