• Emillee Joy Hernandez

The "Invisible Crisis"


When a natural disaster or a human-induced conflict arises in a developing community, rescue and aid become the immediate priority. Countries band together in a collective effort to send medical personnel, supplies and protection to those affected by the crisis. The purpose of humanitarian aid is to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity[1]--in other words, aid efforts tend to be allocated towards the most critical and apparent signs of suffering. But what about the less apparent products of emergency or crisis that may have as equal of an influence on a country’s well-being? Say, mental health issues? This article will emphasize the growing need for developmental aid, which, unlike humanitarian aid, targets the underlying and unexposed problems that can precede or follow a crisis.

In the West, the stigma of mental illness is becoming increasingly diminished by awareness efforts, research developments and community support. However, in developing countries where more visible issues are at the forefront of concern--such as hunger, natural disaster, or political instability--emerging mental health issues tend to take the back seat. Dr. Inka Weissbecker, International Medical Corps’ mental health and psychological adviser, calls the matter an “invisible crisis.”[2] This was a response to the February 17th gun battle in a UN camp in Malakal, South Sudan, in which a patient with a psychotic disorder was killed by ambushing government soldiers as he was unable to flee the health facilities like the rest of the civilians.[3] She comments that in chaotic situations such as this recent attack, people who are “functioning less” tend to be left behind.[4] Although this example is extreme in nature, the broader message here is that “...people tend to focus on the trauma that comes in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters and conflicts rather than the underlying problems that can predate them, or the long tails of depression that follow them.”[5] So how can this be resolved? Let’s start with our social views of mental illness.

Here at McGill University in Canada, there are many resources available that provide support for mental health issues. From counselling services, to speaking to a psychiatrist, to simply talking to family and friends. In developing nations, where mental illness is often stigmatized, affected individuals can be subjected to devaluation and discrimination from others and are more inclined to adopt harmful coping mechanisms such as secrecy or withdrawal.[6] Studies have shown that in low- to middle-income countries such as India and Ethiopia, the mentally ill refrain from disclosing their problems or symptoms to health professionals or even their own immediate family members.[7] Therefore, it is no surprise that more than 75% of people in developing nations who require treatment do not receive any form of intervention.[8] Although the mental illness stigma is a major obstacle in the developing world, it is not the only one.

Even if the social movement of destigmatizing mental health issues were to somehow proliferate in the developing world, the means and facilities to tend to those in need are scarce. The lack of funding for outpatient services is a large restriction to the development of mental health treatment, as most governments in these in countries apportion what little funds they have to psychiatric institutions.[9] What is needed, along with national public education campaigns to reduce stigmatization and discrimination, are mental health models starting from the community level. This, coupled with the understanding that developmental aid is just as important as humanitarian aid, will surely place nations on the road to improved aid response and the creation of programs that attack underlying issues.

Further attention must be attributed to this “invisible crisis” in order to prevent, treat, and abolish suffering, both physical and mental in nature.

Endnotes:

[1] Katherine Rouleau and Lynda Redwood-Campbell, “International Development and Humanitarian Aid,” Canadian Family Physician 55 (2009): 575-577, accessed March 7, 2016, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2694066/

[2] Sam Jones, “Mental illness is one of development’s ‘invisible crises’, says IMC expert,” The Guardian, March 3, 2016, accessed March 7, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/mar/03/mental-illness-one-of-developments-invisible-crises-says-imc-expert

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.

[6] Franco Mascayano, Julio Eduardo Armijo, and Lawrence Hsin Yang, “Addressing stigma related to mental illness in low- and middle-income coutntries,” Frontier in Psychiatry 6 (2015): 38, accessed March 7, 2016, doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2015.00038

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.

Bibliography:

Katherine Rouleau and Lynda Redwood-Campbell, “International Development and Humanitarian Aid,” Canadian Family Physician 55 (2009): 575-577, accessed March 7, 2016, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2694066/

Franco Mascayano, Julio Eduardo Armijo, and Lawrence Hsin Yang, “Addressing stigma related to mental illness in low- and middle-income coutntries,” Frontier in Psychiatry 6 (2015): 38, accessed March 7, 2016, doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2015.00038

Sam Jones, “Mental illness is one of development’s ‘invisible crises’, says IMC expert,” The Guardian, March 3, 2016, accessed March 7, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/mar/03/mental-illness-one-of-developments-invisible-crises-says-imc-expert


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