On World Mental Health Day, International Medical Corps Highlights Problem of Mental Illness, Often Neglected in Humanitarian Settings

In honor of World Mental Health Day, International Medical Corps supported an event with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Amman, Jordan to draw attention to the profound impact mental illness has on society, and what can be done to combat the problem.

The October 10 event, “Mental Health: It’s Time to Care,” brought together representatives of the WHO, Ministry of Health (MoH), and the government of Amman to raise awareness of the often unaddressed, but devastating problem of mental illness.

“Mental disorders go neglected and unrecognized far too often,” says Zeinab Hijazi, International Medical Corps psychosocial coordinator for the Middle East.  “This event was designed to make people aware of just how common mental health problems are.  It is estimated that one out of four people experience a mental health problem during their lifetime.  For people who have survived conflict or war, like many of the Iraqis who live in Jordan, the occurrence is much higher.”

It is estimated that 50 percent of people suffering from mental illness never receive any kind of treatment.  For lower- and middle-income countries, like much of the Middle East, it is expected that 75 percent of the people needing mental health care never get it.

“People have the right to access the mental health care that they need,” says Hijazi.  “That’s the message we are trying to get across with ‘It’s Time to Care.’  We need to remove the stigma associated with mental health disorders and focus collectively on how we can get as many people as we can the care that they need.”

International Medical Corps has provided mental health care in Jordan since 2007, focusing on the displaced from Iraq and other vulnerable populations. Some 230 of the 2,000 attendees at the October 10 event are being assisted by International Medical Corps, all of them having fled their homes in Iraq.

“I didn’t like to leave my home, but people came to me, talked to me, and showed me care and assisted me,” says a 42-year-old International Medical Corps program participant.. “And now, I find myself part of this event, and I find it nice to be around people who care about me.”

In Jordan, the MoH is working to integrate mental health care into its primary health care system.  International Medical Corps, the WHO, and other national and international organizations are actively working with the MoH on a steering committee to create the first national policy for mental health.

“Integrating mental health into  primary health care is the most surefire way to guarantee  that people have access to services close to their homes,” says Hijazi.  “This helps keep families together and allows patients to pursue care without disrupting their daily lives.  International Medical Corps is working to shape the national mental health services so that more and more people are reached by this level of care.”

International Medical Corps in Jordan uses a community-based approach, providing clients care in their home environments.  The program is also giving primary health care workers the skills and knowledge they need to identify psychological issues and symptoms, treat minor to moderate cases, and make proper referrals.  All cases are managed at the community level – through both primary health care and social centers – so that patients can continue their treatments near their homes for as long as needed.

In early summer, International Medical Corps teamed up with National Geographic to conduct an innovative mental health care program in Jordan targeted at Iraqi, Palestinian, and Jordanian youth. International Medical Corps’ “Photo Camp” program has taught more than 120 teens about self-expression through photographic vision and technique.  Their images have since gone on display at exhibits in London, Amman, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

Help us save lives.