Victims of insurgency are often forced to flee their homes, where many are separated from their families and communities. During insurgency driven conflict, loss of life, abduction, the threat of recruitment into armed groups create trauma and mental challenges. Many people are cut off from fundamental services like clean water, health care and education, especially as towns are raided and communities divided. All these events create lasting impressions in the minds of the individuals, which when unaddressed may have lasting effects to community members and consequently on lasting peace.
If such traumatic feelings are not addressed, they can eventually lead to severe illness such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can also lead to outcomes such as low self-esteem, compounded health issues, overall poor performance, and potential self-harm. Therefore, Mental Health and Psycho-Social Support (MHPSS) remains critical especially to victims of the insurgency as it supports them to overcome traumatic experiences and builds effective transitions.
Yagana Mustapha was abducted by the non-state armed group in 2014 at the age of 17. She was forcefully married and gave birth to 2 children. “I was forced to marry one of my abductors against my will. Apart from the forced marriage, I went through a lot of stress and suffering, we were fed rotten food, sometimes going days without any meals. After 5 years in their custody, I summoned the courage to escape with my 2 kids, I thought I was over the whole situation but something worse came. I could not sleep most nights, I had nightmares and I lived in fear that I might be abducted again.
Crisis situations have the potential also to put parents under mental stress, which can prevent them from paying adequate attention to their children during and post crisis. In communities hit hardest by crisis, psychosocial support is vital to improving the mental health of affected persons and play part in building their resilience.
In contributing to community mental health wellbeing and linked to supporting them to rebuild their systems for local livelihoods, the Support to Reconciliation and Reintegration Project, which is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funded by European Union, provides mental health and psycho-social support sessions for victims of insurgency in Northeast Nigeria. The initiative is linked with support provided to the community members to establish locally appropriate livelihood schemes. It seeks to create an enabling environment that helps to develop coping skills, heal from the scars of the conflict and subsequently build community resilience.
“The MHPSS sessions have been of great help to me, we were taught how to handle our traumas which will help us heal. The sessions gave us the opportunity to speak about our situation, and in that I realised a lot of people have been through worse situations than mine. Knowing that I am not alone and seeing people going through the same issue helped me to relax, we bonded and are trying to heal together. I’m not totally over the event, but this session is a steppingstone towards full recovery, I am really happy that I participated and wish that more people can participate” remarked Yagana.
Beneficiaries receive counselling and mentorship classes on core values such as tolerance, justice and honesty which contributes to social cohesion and peace. Their selection for participation in MHPSS sessions is built on a vulnerability assessment.
Halima Bukar lost her husband to the insurgency and she is left with her four children to care for. “When our village was raided by the military, I lost my husband, and I still don’t know if he’s alive or dead, I just couldn’t find him after the raid. Since then, I have been living in disarray, because I think about if he will ever come back to me and my kids. When I heard of this program I enrolled, and the sessions have been wonderful, I feel much better now, I no longer think a lot it has helped me to forge ahead, “says Halima.
Mental health and psycho-social support enables the community to cope with the effects of the conflict. It has been provided to individuals that are participating in a livelihoods strengthening intervention as a precursor and is also linked to building community engagement in actions entrenching social cohesion at the community level. The EU supported project aims to enhance stability through provision of alternatives to violence and enhanced social cohesion and is implemented as a partnership between the UNDP, IOM and UNICEF in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States.