Putting mental health at the forefront in Lanao del Sur

Mental health is just as important as physical health, and yet there is a huge gap in many places when it comes to awareness, understanding and capacity to respond to the oft-unseen issues linked to it.

“In many cultures including ours, mental health cases are associated with stigma and superstition, where people resort to exorcism and folk healing rather than proper medication and psychological support. Nevertheless, people coming forward to us is already a huge step.”

“We continue to raise awareness around mental health and promote de-stigmatization,” shared Dr. Babay Malawani of the mental health cases referred to them in Malabang town, Lanao del Sur. 

Dr. Malawani was one of 30 health staff from the Integrated Provincial Health Office-Lanao del Sur and its targeted rural health units, Marawi City Health Office, Tamparan District Hospital, and non-government organizations that underwent a weeklong training on basic mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), from Sept. 27-Oct. 1 in Iligan City. 

This is the second training under the MHPSS capacity-building program of healthcare professionals in conflict areas by ICRC.

The participants were trained on mental health needs, including symptom identification to ensure proper handling of cases and referral to specialized support. 

ICRC’s MHPSS team conducts monthly mentoring and supervision for these health workers since the training’s launch in 2019 and will continue until one of the phases of the capacity-building program is completed in 2022.

“In conflict-affected communities, there is a gap between MHPSS needs and access to MHPSS services. We aim to help reduce this gap by capacitating health workers institutionally,” said Sherzod Musrifshoev, ICRC MHPSS delegate based in Iligan. 

After the program’s launch in 2019, the ICRC MHPSS team did close clinical supervision and mentoring for these health workers and monitored the results. 

“Monitoring helps us understand, formulate and adjust our interventions. In fact, most of the topics in this second training are an accumulation of the recommendations made by these health workers,” Musrifshoev said. 

Dr. Rasmia Lawi, Municipal Health Officer of Piagapo RHU, said the training was relevant for her team as their area is often hit by armed clashes, and community members need MHPSS support. 

“Through the learning from this program, coupled with our fields of expertise, we were able to implement mental health awareness to our community. We have also identified a significant number of mental health cases and responded to them accordingly,” she said. 

For Butig, Dr. Zora Disomimba said the training will augment their skills and should help them to recognize and identify mental health cases, so they could provide early intervention and help the patient recover.

30 health workers from Lanao del Sur undergo training on proper handling of mental health cases and referral to specialized support as part of the capacity-building program the ICRC started in December 2019.

Several MHPSS training sessions and programs are also being implemented in Davao, Cotabato, and Zamboanga, widening the reach of this capacity-building program.

The third training for Lanao del Sur is planned for 2022 and will complete one of the phases of the capacity-building program. The ICRC continues its monthly supervision sessions and provision of technical support.

“Mental health support must be included in the first wave of humanitarian emergencies as an integral component of emergency response systems. It is a lifesaving intervention in armed conflict situations,” Musrifshoev said.

Story by Amer Hassan Sanggacala, ICRC communication officer based in Iligan City.

Source : Icrc