Mental health and psychosocial support helps to rebuild lives and strengthen peacebuilding
'I am now strong enough to face the challenges ahead'
October 9, 2023
"I was part of the problem; I am now part of the solution," said Mr. Omar Khatiwi, a 29-year-old man from the small rural village of Matindili in Malawi. From leading street fights to becoming a counsellor for the youth of his village, Mr. Khatiwi’s journey is the testimony to the transformative power of mental health and psychosocial support.
Mr. Khatiwi sought psychosocial support from UNDP as he kept getting into fights: "I could not control my anger," he said, "and I could not stand people disagreeing with me. The mental health and psychosocial support sessions taught me how to manage my emotions positively. I also learned to share what am going through with my friends." He now has an office in a small concrete house in Matindili, where youth consult him about their personal issues such as quarrels and family planning. "Young people flock to my office!", he exclaimed.
UNDP offers mental health and psychosocial support services to individuals and communities in 27 conflict-affected countries. These services are integrated into peacebuilding initiatives. By helping people to rebuild interpersonal and intercommunal trust and helping them repair severed community bonds, mental health and psychosocial support addresses both the individual and social foundations of well-being. In turn, it contributes to interrupting cycles of violence and building stronger communities that can resist divisive narratives, shocks and crises.
From Burundi to Morocco, from Bangladesh to Trinidad and Tobago, UNDP’s mental health and psychosocial support interventions have helped thousands of individuals like Mr. Khatiwi repair relationships, regain a sense of well-being and give back to their communities. UNDP’s mental health and psychosocial support projects include supporting returnees in rebuilding their lives, training mediators in conflict resolution skills, helping peacekeepers better serve their communities or supporting reconciliation processes between former enemies.
"I was part of the problem; I am now part of the solution."- Mr. Omar Khatiwi, Malawi
Ms. Om Omar is a 28-year-old widow and mother of three from Iraq. She returned from Al-Hol camp in 2020 following the death of her husband and one of her sons. "My family and I faced rejection and discrimination from everyone, even from our relatives," she explained. "Receiving mental health and psychosocial support helped me to deal with the pressure, understand myself, and start addressing my problems one by one."
Ms. Om Omar is one of 1,580 recipients of UNDP’s support to returnees in Iraq. This includes mental health and psychosocial support as well as vocational training. She is now hopeful: "I am now strong enough to face the challenges ahead. With UNDP’s training in sustainable agriculture, I can be a contributing member of my community once again."
UNDP is currently integrating mental health and psychosocial support into the entire range of its peacebuilding interventions. To ensure the coherence of these efforts, UNDP issued last year a Guidance Note on Integrating Mental Health and Psychosocial Support into Peacebuilding.
In countries in crisis, UNDP has found solutions to bring services to people in need. In Ukraine, for example, UNDP has partnered with the private sector to set up a free online mental health and psychosocial support helpline despite blackouts and shelling.
"Mental health and psycho-social support helped me to deal with the pressure, understand myself, and start addressing my problems one by one."- Ms. Om Omar, Iraq
Ms. Valeriia Palii, 36, the president of the largest professional association of Ukraine, is heading the platform. She explains the platform’s role in helping individuals and communities withstand the impact of the war: "We receive complaints about the acute stress, symptoms of mental disorders, the loss of loves ones, but also about conflicts arising due to tension and stress."
The service is available throughout Ukraine as well as to Ukrainian refugees in 21 European countries. In a little more than a year, the platform has helped almost 6,000 people. Ms. Palii recognizes the value of mental health and psychosocial support interventions to building peace, but also their power in creating vocations: "For us, working every day at the helpline is more than just a job. It has meaning."
"Working every day at the helpline is more than just a job. It has meaning."- Ms. Valeriia Palii, Ukraine
In the Malawian village of Matindili, the former mob leader and newly trained counsellor Mr. Khatiwi also reflects on his own transformation: "I am not the same as I used to be. My own journey started when I realized the detrimental influence that was having on my community, and that there was another path."
For information on UNDP’s work on mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) in peacebuilding, please visit our website or contact Nika Saeedi, UNDP Global Advisor on MHPSS, at email@example.com.
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