Caring About the Less Visible Impacts of War

This little girl takes some time to draw in a Child Friendly Space set up by World Vision in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.
This little girl takes some time to draw in a Child Friendly Space set up by World Vision in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

This post is written on behalf of World Vision Australia. We were not paid to run this post, rather I approached World Vision, as a World Vision ambassador, to send us something to run for Mental Health Month. Mental health is a very real impact of war, and one that is often forgotten – Tamsin, Editor-in-Chief

In an emergency, the most immediate needs are the ones that spring to mind: food, water, shelter and emergency health care are critical to peoples’ survival. But there are less visible impacts for people caught up in emergencies – whether they be natural or manmade – particularly for those who experience war.

The social and psychological effects can be devastating for children and their families. It can result in stunted development for children, especially in their social, emotional and cognitive growth. For this reason, during emergency responses and throughout recovery periods, we often establish projects to support the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of conflict affected communities. One such example is Gaza in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Psychosocial support has been integrated through World Vision’s projects after the 2008 war in Gaza. Psychosocial support was provided to girls and boys, women and men in different ways. Men received support through trained agricultural extension officers in connection with their livelihoods work; while children aged between 6 and 16 years have been supported through children’s programs where they engage in facilitated games, sporting events, arts and cultural
activities, as well as group discussions about children’s rights, coping and learning how to relax. Women receive training in Psychological First Aid – training them how to provide emotional support to their families in future crises.

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The results of this project have been amazing. The red bars on the graph show that families who received integrated psychosocial support, along with livelihood interventions, showed higher improvements than those in livelihoods-only programs.

In July 2014 conflict raged upon the Gaza strip once again. It is critical that we support people with their survival needs. But this war, like those before it, will once again create invisible scars for families and children. The 8,000+ women trained in Psychological First Aid will inevitably be putting into practice their skills. Community organisations will have to once again re-establish children’s programs. Despite the challenges of crises, World Vision can assure our supporters that we work towards preparing communities as best we can. We can also assure them that we will not only be there to help people survive, but thereafter, to thrive.

Author: 

Dr. Alison Schafer, Humanitarian Emergency Affairs Team (HEA), Field Partnerships

Alison Schafer is a Senior Program Advisor for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS). Currently, Alison provides input to MHPSS projects in Sri Lanka, Gaza, Kenya, and Uganda and represents World Vision International in various global mental health forums, including with the UN and World Health Organization. Alison has worked with WVA for 13+ years in various roles. She has a PhD in Clinical Psychology, Honours in Psychology, and a Bachelor of Social Science.

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You can get more information about the NSW Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Month here.