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Mental health is at the heart of all we do

It makes families stronger and children safer.

June 06, 2023 | Daneal Lightner, content writer

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When emergencies strike, governments, NGOs, philanthropists, and volunteers respond with immediate, life-saving relief. They provide shelter, water, food, and medical care. All important. All essential.

But another basic need should also be high priority during emergency response: mental health aid. When mental health is addressed early in the crisis rather than months and years later, we see significant results for those affected most.

Where there is war, there must be mental health support.

Lubaba is a young mother of two children. Her husband left home to fight the violent civil war in northern Ethiopia.

She says, “The soldiers continually came and asked me where the weapons were hidden. And because of their frequent beatings, my ears and legs were badly injured. On top of that, I received the news of the passing away of my husband. That’s when the darkest hour of my life started.”

The war destroyed essential community infrastructures and caused the displacement of thousands of people forced from their homes in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. The trauma these children and families faced is indescribable.

When much of the violence had settled, Lubaba was left to face her new life as a widow and single parent. She says, “Life became too complicated. I lost all my strength and hope. I had no desire to work. What was most depressing was the thought of how to raise my children with no income. There was no strength left in me.” 

Like Lubaba, many survivors were impacted with mental and emotional challenges caused by sleeplessness, flashbacks, nightmares, and crushing feelings of guilt that they survived while so many did not.

When responding to emergencies, mental health aid is as essential as food, water, shelter, and physical health care.

In the first response to the crisis in the Amhara region, providing timely mental health services was crucial. Through Bethany's support, Lubaba is applying mental health techniques and building a support network around herself and her children. This will help them stand firm when waves of uncertainty and future trials come. She’s eating again, regaining strength, and finding joy once more.

The services Bethany provided taught participants how to

  • Build positive relationships and relieve depression

  • Identify constructive solutions to new challenges

  • Find and use positive coping mechanisms

  • Use and cultivate support systems

Once mental health support became available in the Amhara region, the results were evident. More than 96% of those who received services showed significant improvement.

Families like Lubaba’s are on the path to healing and working toward stability and social connection—in large part, due to the mental health services they received. It’s a long renewal process, but thanks to continued improvement in mental health access, children, youth, and families around the world are rebuilding their mental and emotional well-being, rediscovering inner peace, and finding power in hope.

There is no family preservation without mental health.

When facing overwhelming, complicated, and often dark challenges, mental health can be easily overlooked. But it’s the first step to healing and creating lasting change.

Children are safer when families are stronger. Families are stronger when parents are healthier. Parents need health of mind, body, and spirit. They need inner strength and stability to build a foundation for their families that can withstand the uncertainties life brings.

The first step to uncovering that inner strength is mental health.

When Mulu’s husband died unexpectedly, she was left to care for six children on her own in rural Ethiopia. She had no time to grieve, process her loss, or heal. The family income was gone, their home was falling apart, they had no money for schooling or food, and Mulu’s health was deteriorating.

Mulu and her family needed support in many ways. Along with ensuring she and her children had food to eat and adequate shelter, one of the first steps Bethany took in helping them recover was providing the support they needed to process their grief.

Mulu needed to rediscover her purpose after the loss of her husband and the family’s income, struggling through an illness, and the stress of figuring out how to provide for her children. Without first addressing her depression how could she get back up? How could she begin again with control, purpose, and strength?

What they’d endured could not be repaired with a grocery stipend alone. Emotional and mental care was essential to helping the family recover, heal, and grow stronger.

Too often the opportunity to grieve a loss or tragedy doesn’t exist. There’s no time or space to process because life carries on. But by providing the support families need to identify, understand, and overcome their trauma and losses, they grow stronger. They become empowered and confident to overcome future trials with the skills to thrive.

Through adaptable and flexible tools, Bethany assesses and responds to individual, family, and community needs. The services offered vary from one crisis to the next, from one country to another, and are built on local cultural values. Services can include

  • Individual coaching and counseling

  • Support groups and self-help groups

  • Structured play for children

  • Full mind and body grounding techniques, such as relaxation and breathing exercises

  • Storytelling

  • Music making

  • Sports

  • Handicraft or vocational courses

  • Above all, a compassionate person actively listening to a hurting person’s journey

Mental healing is foundational to survival.

For many of the families Bethany walks alongside, crisis and trauma have been a daily part of their lives.

Mentesenot’s childhood and stability ended the day he tragically lost his father.

His mother was grief-stricken. She was lost without her husband. Once charged with the well-being of her children and home, she suddenly was faced with the daunting task of replacing the income her husband had provided.

She got a job as a janitor at a local college. Then tragedy hit again. She was in an accident that drastically affected her ability to walk. After several attempts at treatment, she could not be healed and was left out of work and bedridden.

Though he was just a young boy, Mentesenot and his brother were thrown into adulthood. They now had to earn an income for their family. His brother quit school, both boys found work, and they did all they could to care for their mother.

Their losses and the expense of food, housing, and medical bills left the family reeling.

When Bethany was called, the care the family needed was comprehensive. Immediate assistance guaranteed they had food, put the boys back in school, and provided physical and mental health care.

For those who’ve lived through crisis, learning to cope is crucial. Psychological needs may be less visible than physical needs, but they’re no less life-threatening.

Through counseling and other supports, Mentesenot and his mother and brother were finally given the space to grieve the loss of their father, their mother’s mobility, and the end of life as they knew it. It took time, but eventually healing began and the family could come to terms with what their new life would be and could be.

Mentesenot finished school, earning a degree in accounting. His brother got married and now has a healthy family of his own. These milestones would have been impossible had they never had the chance to heal their mental and emotional wounds.

Mental health is a long process with enormous payout.

Efforts to integrate mental health services into a community take time, and it’s often years before sustainable impact is seen. It’s not a one-time event, but an ongoing, rewarding process.

Bethany has found providing mental health services to be cost-effective, evidence-based, and adaptable to fit and honor all cultures. With training, building a foundation of strong mental health is scalable, accessible, and replicable everywhere. And it’s as essential as it is sustainable.

Stronger mental health services build stronger families that protect the well-being of children and youth. That’s why, with a mission to protect children, empower youth, and strengthen families we cannot ignore mental health. It’s integrated into every service we provide and always pays back.

Whether rescuing a child from trafficking in Ethiopia, assisting refugees walking through Colombia, empowering youth in Haiti to overcome systemic poverty, or stabilizing families in Ghana, mental health is at the heart of all we do.

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