Survey: Millennials say mental health aid is a priority in war zones

  • Mind
  • Sunday, 13 Oct 2019

An ICRC psychologist (fourth from left) helps provide post-crisis pyschosocial support to a group of survivors from a village in central Mali whose fellow villagers were massacred in a violent clash between herders and farmers. Photo: ICRC

Nearly three in four millennials across 15 countries said that mental health needs are as important as water, food and shelter for victims of wars and armed violence.

The data, taken from an Ipsos survey commissioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) of more than 15,000 people aged 20 to 35, shows growing awareness of the importance of mental health in conflict situations.

Of the 15 countries surveyed, the highest support for mental health among millennials came from Syria, where 87% of roughly 1,000 respondents said mental health needs are as important as water, food and shelter for victims of armed conflicts.

The next highest countries were Indonesia (82%), Ukraine (81%) and Switzerland (80%). In Malaysia, 79% of respondents felt the same. “Mental health services have for too long been an after-thought in conflict settings,” said ICRC president Peter Maurer.

“When traumas are invisible, they can be easily overlooked or deprioritised. Yet war has a devastating impact on the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of millions. New mental health problems can appear and pre-existing conditions may resurface. For some, the effects will be life-threatening

More than one out of five people in conflict-affected areas live with some form of mental health condition, from mild depression and anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That is three times more than the general population worldwide who suffer from these conditions.

From experience, the ICRC says this can be similarly true for other humanitarian crises like disasters and health emergencies. The mental health and psychosocial needs of people caught up in conflict must be a part of the growing attention given to mental health around the world.

“Supporting people’s mental health can be lifesaving in times of war and violence, just as much as stemming a bleeding wound or having clean water. “Hidden wounds are no less dangerous,” said Maurer.

But in low- and middle-income countries where most humanitarian crises occur, mental health and psychosocial support services are underprioritised 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.

This 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.

“Investing in mental health and psychosocial support saves lives and must be integrated into all humanitarian responses,” said International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies secretary-general Elhadj As Sy.

“We know that early interventions can prevent distress from developing into more severe mental health conditions, which can have much more serious and long-term consequences.”

Mental health and psychosocial support in post-conflict environments is highly effective: every US$1 (RM4.19) invested in treatment for depression can lead to a US$5 (RM20.94) return in better health. Community-based volunteers and trained professionals are critical to bridging this resource gap.

In conjunction with World Mental Health Day on Oct 10, the ICRC is calling on all states to prioritise mental health and psychosocial support in situations of violence and armed conflict, and to view it as critical to the first wave of humanitarian assistance, as well as an integral component in domestic and international emergency response systems.

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