HIV and tuberculosis patients must endure lengthy and gruelling treatment plans; for people with these and other chronic health conditions, or contagious diseases like Ebola and Lassa fever, there is also economic stress, loneliness and stigma, and sometimes psychiatric side-effects from medication. Adherence counselling can help patients to stick to their treatment and cope with the challenges they face in living with and tackling their illness.
Children who are malnourished face the risk of delayed development, and mental health treatment can help support them as well as their caretaker, who may also be experiencing a mental health disorder.
Local and culture-specific responses
To provide effective care, it is essential to understand the structures that exist in the communities where our patients live, and the emotional support these structures can offer. When our mental health teams begin work in a new community, one of their first steps is to seek out local leaders who can guide the team on the strategies that will best match people’s needs. Communities often need to rebuild themselves as a whole to help strengthen the identities of the people within them.
In many cases, MSF mental health staff are from the communities being assisted. Their knowledge and understanding of their community’s experiences, as well as values and practices around mental health, are very beneficial to providing effective treatment.
"As counsellors, we help our patients by listening to them, but we can also connect with them through the experiences we share,” says Stanley, an MSF counsellor in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “When someone comes to us suffering because he has lost his house, I say, 'Oh, you lost your home. I understand that you are deeply affected by this. I was also like that.' Our sessions are foremost conducted to help our patients, but reflecting on our shared experiences allows us, as counsellors, to be comforted as well."