Community Mental Health services essential after disaster

Just before Christmas I had the privilege of being part of a Community Mental Health assessment in the Typhoon Haiyan zone of the Philippines. The assessment was conducted by Dr Nick Rose, a Senior Psychiatrist from Oxford in the UK and Mr Willy Reyes, CBM’s Mental Health Coordinator in the Philippines.

Four men standing in front of a building doorway

Left to right: Willy Reyes; Dr Henrietta Espanola, Head of Department of Psychiatry, University of Western Visayas State University in Iloilo; Dr Nick Rose; David Lewis, CBM, at a mental health consultation in Estancia.

CBM conducted this assessment because we are keen to work with others in ensuring high quality mental health services are available for communities affected by the typhoon. It is also very important that these same communities grow in their understanding of mental health issues, including opportunities for referral and how everyone can be part of building inclusion for all community members.

During Nick and Willy’s visit we travelled by boat to the island community I wrote about in my  earlier blog ‘Philippines: Building Back Better’. I again had the privilege of meeting Maria and her family described in the blog. Since my earlier visit, Maria’s mother had been able to take her by boat to the Concepcion Rural Health Centre, where she had been treated previously. This health centre sustained severe damage during the typhoon, due to both the ferocious winds and storm surge which flooded the town. Despite damage to their own homes, health centre staff have worked tirelessly to re-establish services, including for remote communities.

Two women standing in front of devastated buildings

Maria (left) and her mother, in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan

Thanks to the work of the health centre, Maria is again on medication which helps to control both her epilepsy and mood swings. When I introduced Nick and Willy to Maria and her parents, I was very encouraged to see how much calmer and more settled she is. During discussions Nick conducted with the family, it became clear how difficult life has been for this family over the long term and especially in the period since the typhoon.

Their situation made me reflect on the many other people like Maria who still need to access good services. We were told that there are a number of people with mental health conditions on various islands, the most disturbed of whom are chained to stop them wandering. People told us this is done for their own protection, as families have to find other options when treatment is not available. It is very possible the trauma caused by the typhoon may have worsened life for these people and also triggered mental health conditions in others. It is clear that high quality, sustained Community Mental Health services are essential so that people do not have to suffer painful chaining and other indignities when simple, affordable treatment can be made available.

The ‘Ageing and Disability Focal Points’ I wrote about earlier this month are very important in helping people with mental health conditions access the treatment they need, and to assist in creating wider awareness about mental health issues and the importance of ‘building back better’ following the devastation caused by the typhoon.

Maria’s family home is still severely damaged. They are living under tarpaulins provided in part through CBM and our partner organisation the Association of Disabled Persons, Iloilo. The family still has no access to any solid livelihood to sustain their daily living needs.
The ‘focal points’ are therefore also a very  important hub for linking people like Maria and her family with mainstream opportunities for restored shelter and livelihoods, and to general health care and food until their lives are re-established.

Thank you to our wonderful supporters who make it possible for CBM to work with people like Maria and her family, together with so many other people with disabilities affected by the typhoon. The ‘Ageing and Disability Focal Points’ we are establishing thanks to our supporters will ensure a long term difference for some of the poorest people in affected communities.

Read more about the CBM response to typhoon Haiyan