Newsletter. Psychological support and access to mental health care

Newsletter No 5. December 2020 Psychological support tools for working in areas with little access to mental health care

14.12 2020

Overview of content:

Psychological first aid tools for working in areas with little access to mental health care
Providing psychological first aid
Further reading and resources
Download the MHHRI GBV manual
Upcoming Events

Dear friends and colleagues, 

sychological support tools for working in areas with little access to mental health care

Article 12 in the UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Nevertheless, in many countries people lack access to mental health care. Refugees and displaced populations are among those who often face barriers in accessing professional mental health services.

Mental health problems such as depression can be a strain for oneself and for the surrounding family and may in some cases even lead to suicide. Especially low-income countries struggle to keep up with the demand for psychological care due to lack of funding and facilities. Therefore, a lack of (and access to) professionals arises.

On a global basis, researchers believe that the loss of health due to mental illness is greater than with all other illnesses. Mental illness tops the list of causes of excess morbidity. It is therefore important to raise awareness about this issue and to advocate for better access to mental health care. Our team at MHHRI provides useful resources about mental health and human rights on our website.

A wide gap in mental health support in areas where humanitarian access is difficult, calls for innovative measures. WHO developed Self-Help Plus (SH+) to meet the challenges of delivering evidence-based mental health support to large numbers of people in conflict- or disaster-affected areas.

SH+ is a group-based self-help intervention guided by non-specialist facilitators with minimal training. It consists of a five-session pre-recorded audio course and an illustrated self-help book designed for low literacy populations.

Guided self-help is a promising intervention and has potential to improve reach and access to psychological support. So far research findings indicate that SH+ has great effect on reductions in psychological distress.

Here, we also want to mention some other initiatives aiming to make mental health care more available. One example is the manual “Where there is no psychiatrist – A Mental Health Care Manual”, which gives the reader a basic understanding of mental illness. It also provides training for general health workers to treat illnesses such as depression.

Another example is psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, who had an innovative idea on how to provide mental health care in Zimbabwe, where there is a lack of psychiatrists. He started training grandmothers in evidence-based talk therapy, which equipped them with tools to treat depression among people in their community. This approach showed great results, reducing both depression and thoughts of suicide.

In these times of COVID-19 we should remember the words of WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “The right to health means that everyone should have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without suffering financial hardship. No one should get sick and die just because they are poor, or because they cannot access the health services they need”.

During the Coronavirus outbreak, it is especially important that we are reminded of this fundamental right. Key aspects of the right to health that are particularly important during the Coronavirus outbreak included. For more information related to COVID-19 and mental health, go back to our newsletter no 1 of March 2020.

Further reading and resources

Here you will find different resources about this topic.

Where There Is No Psychiatrist. A Mental Health Care Ma...

2018Vikram Patel and Charlotte Hanlon

Where There Is No Psychiatrist – A Mental Health Care Manual. Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2018 “This practical manual of mental health care is vital for community health workers, primary care nurses, social workers and primary care doctors,...

Guided self-help intervention reduces refugees’ psychol...


Guided self-help intervention reduces refugees’ psychological distress and improves wellbeing in humanitarian crises “First randomised trial of its kind finds multimedia guided self-help intervention can be delivered rapidly to large numbers of peopl...

TED Talk: Why I train grandmothers to treat depression

2017Dixon Chibanda, TED talk

“Dixon Chibanda is one of 12 psychiatrists in Zimbabwe – for a population of more than 16 million. Realizing that his country would never be able to scale traditional methods of treating those with mental health issues, Chibanda helped to devel...

Mental Health Among Displaced People and Refugees: Maki...

2017World Bank Group

“Forcibly displaced people’s mental health needs have often been neglected in response plans. Yet meeting these needs is critical to help displaced persons overcome trauma and rebuild their lives. Without appropriate mental health care, forcibly disp...

Digital technology for treating and preventing mental d...

2017Naslund, Aschbrenner, Bartels,

“Few individuals living with mental disorders around the globe have access to mental health care, yet most have access to a mobile phone. Digital technology holds promise for improving access to, and quality of, mental health care. We reviewed ...

mhGAP Humanitarian Intervention Guide

2015World Health Organization

mhGAP Humanitarian Intervention Guide. ПосібникmhGAP з надання допомоги. The mental health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) is a WHO programme that seeks to address the lack of care for people suffering from mental, neurological and substance use (MNS) c...

Digital Technology for Building Capacity of Non-special...

2019John A. Naslund, PhD, Rahul Shidhaye, MD, and Vikram Patel, PhD

In this perspectives article, we consider the potential that digital technology holds for supporting non-specialist health workers in delivering evidence-based mental health care. Specifically, from our search of the academic literature, we identifie...

Achieving universal health coverage for mental disorder...

2019Patel & Saxena

“A key element of the field of global mental health is the design and evaluation of innovative strategies for integrating cost effective pharmacological and psychosocial interventions in primary healthcare. The evidence from this work, from a range o...


All manuals can be downloaded from the MHHRI website

There are three different manuals, which respectively address working with women, with boys and men, and with children who have experienced sexual violence.

The manuals are translated into several languages. The page numbers in each manual remain the same across languages. This allows survivors and helpers to work from copies in their preferred language and read the same content on the same pages. It also makes it easier to teach participants when participants and trainers work in more than one language. The manuals include a toolbox. Survivors can use it individually to regulate their own emotions through grounding exercises or in collaboration with a helper. Helpers can also use grounding exercises to take care of themselves as helpers.

Upcoming Events

IRCT symposium in Georgia – postponed
2021 IRCT Scientific Symposium & General Assembly
Overcoming the Extreme: Life after Torture
2021 in Tbilisi, Georgia (more information will follow)

17th biennial conference of the European Society for Traumatic Stress Studies
Trauma and resilience through the ages: A life course perspective.
01- 04 June 2022
Northern Ireland.

The 11th International Society for Health and Human Rights (ISHHR) Conference
All being well, the International Society for Health and Human Rights looks forward to welcoming you to the 11th ISHHR conference and programme of capacity building in Medellin, Colombia February 2021 (tentative dates).
The ISHHR Conference and Capacity-Building Workshops will focus on themes relevant in a Colombian context, for both local and international participants, in cooperation with Región and Reconectando.

  • Strengthening Women’s Rights to Mental Health and Freedom from Violence – by changing behaviour, practices and attitudes and facilitating safe and adequate care.
  • Supporting Human Rights Defenders who risk their lives in difficult and dangerous situations, side by side with families of victims of enforced disappearance and internally displaced (IDPs).
  • Treatment methods after traumatic human rights abuse. Remembering the body, promoting resilience; arts and culture, traditional and indigenous approaches.
  • Post-conflict reconciliation, reconstruction and re-socialisation Community mental health, justice human ecology, ethnic approaches to social action, empowerment and reconciliation.

We appreciate feedback and comments The Mental Health and Human Rights Info Newsletter is a newsletter with the aim to provide insight on a certain subject across the scope of our work; human rights violations in war and conflict areas and mental health. Our intention is to deliver a newsletter as a short “lecture” where you can find relevant information regarding a specific subject with a mental health perspective.

We would appreciate your thoughts and suggestions on other issues you would like to see in this newsletter or if you are planning an event on related issues, please let us know so we can include your event in our newsletter.

Facebook and Instagram 
On our MHHRI Facebook page, and on Instagram we are continuously posting new and relevant articles that we add to our website, as well as events and videos. We also just launched our new LinkedIn page!

If you know anyone who would be interested in receiving this e-newsletter, please forward it, and encourage them to sign up.
We wish you all a peaceful holiday season with human rights for all in 2021
Sincerely yours,
Sara Skilbred-Fjeld and the MHHRI team
Mental Health and Human Rights Info