Why Mental Health Matters in the Fight Against Hunger

Malnutrition can damage the bond between parents and children. At a refugee camp in Ethiopia, our psychosocial experts teach massage as a method to help mother and babies reconnect. Photo: Lys Arango for Action Against Hunger, Ethiopia.

Effective mental health support plays an important role in the fight against hunger.

When an individual experiences trauma – the lasting emotional response that results from living through a distressing event – it can impact their ability to feed and care for themselves and their families. The individual may experience a loss of appetite or be unwilling to eat. Trauma may also manifest itself in the deterioration of the parent-child bond.

The impacts of trauma on maternal mental health can be especially harmful for families and communities. Trauma can lead to maternal depression, which in turn contributes to a decline in breastfeeding, fewer hospital visits, lower immunization rates, and other negative outcomes for children’s health and development.

“Trauma is not just about people who are directly affected by it. Trauma and its effects can be transmitted between generations,” says Elisabetta Dozio, a psychologist and Mental Health, Psychosocial Support and Protection Advisor with Action Against Hunger.

In conflict-related humanitarian emergencies, populations live under a perpetual state of stress, and may be faced with traumatic events such as the death of or separation from loved ones, to name but a few. Action Against Hunger works with communities impacted by conflict, violence and displacement in many different settings, and provides mental health and psychosocial support to respond to the needs that arise as a result of experiencing trauma.

We organize mother-to-mother support groups – safe spaces where mothers can discuss topics such as infant care practices, domestic violence and mental stress. These groups allow mothers to externalize their emotions and share experiences with other women who have also experienced trauma. Mother-and-child workshops are another aspect of our mental health and care practices programs. These workshops help repair the damage to the parent-child bond that may occur when a child becomes malnourished.

Meet Mary

Mental Health Support - Action Against Hunger

Mary is a psychosocial worker for Action Against Hunger in Ethiopia’s Gambella region, where Action Against Hunger provides targeted support for refugees from South Sudan. Nearly 20,000 women and their children have benefited from our mental health support programmes in the region.

Part of Mary’s work is running group discussions with mothers in our Baby Friendly Spaces. In these spaces, our teams provide psychological support for pregnant women and caretakers of children under two years old via individual and group counselling sessions. The spaces also provide the opportunity to communicate key health messages and provide advice on care practices for young children, including breastfeeding, early childhood development and nutrition.

“My motivation to work in Gambella started when I visited the camp months before,” she says. “I realised how devastating the situation was for the mothers and children due to the trauma they were exposed to.

Our Mental Health, Psychosocial Support and Protection activities help individuals and communities who have experienced trauma rebuild their lives and support their families.

“Since I started working here, I can say that it has changed so many aspects of my life. I have learned that so many people go through so many hardships, and they still believe there is hope for better things to come. As long as those people have hope, I will strive to help them in any way,” says Mary. Read the full interview here.


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