Silver Linings: Building on the Covid-generated Mental Health Focus

By Published On: 1st April 2021

They say every cloud has a silver lining. While Covid-19 appears as a particularly large and menacing one; it too brings opportunities to reflect and rework existing ways of doing things.

Strict lock-down measures in many countries have forced people to significantly reduce social interactions to curtail the spread of the virus. Coupled with the immense fear, uncertainty and unpredictability of the pandemic; many people are struggling to cope. As depression, anxiety and even suicide are on the increase globally, the World Health Organisation and others are calling on governments around the world to pay attention to the mental health of their citizens.

At IJR we hope that the spotlight placed on MHPSS by the pandemic, will last and that this enhanced understanding of the importance of mental health as critical to societal health, will soon garner more research, more funding and more advocacy. This was echoed by participants of a series of workshops IJR hosted in February and March this year which sought to follow-up on co-creation workshops previously hosted in 2019. These workshops, which took place with partners in Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Africa, brought together practitioners from both the peacebuilding and the MHPSS fields to jointly envisage how a rapprochement of the disciplines might be actioned.

It seems self-evident that the fields should work together. Surely peacebuilders systemically coordinate and link their efforts with MHPSS practitioners, and vice versa? Sadly, this is not yet the case. While a certain degree of toenadering is now beginning to take effect; ensuring an in-depth, holistic and ecological integration of the fields requires more than just teaching the 101 of each field, to the other. Rather, extensive sensitisation and awareness raising needs to take place, overlapping concepts need to be clarified and agreed upon. A methodical process needs to be developed which uses key approaches and tools from both fields; from the outset; to jointly develop interventions. Stigma plays a major role here, especially in Africa. Without taking fairly aggressive steps to demystify MHPSS away from the notion of white men in white suits, to a multi-dimensional wellbeing practice; integration will take a long time. Bringing donors into this discussion is vital too. The IJR team is passionate and committed to ensuring that an integrated approach is developed that is based on and inclusive, context-specific and carefully considered process. Watch this space. We will be writing history.

Friederike Bubenzer, Senior Project Leader in the Peacebuilding and Interventions Programme at IJR

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