Recently I met with Dr Gladys Mwiti, one of the few clinical psychologists in Kenya who is leading the charge for greater focus on children`s mental health needs in Africa. She worked with traumatised children during the Rwandan genocide and, more recently, as ChildFund Kenya’s expert advisor, provided child counselling support for children and youth impacted by the food crisis in the north.
Dr Mwiti pointed out that funding is a key issue. Donors are slow to recognise the importance of funding mental health programs in Africa. Awareness of the need is growing but it is not as tangible as building a school or addressing physical health needs.
She also noted that people in the West frequently misunderstand the form of psychological intervention she is advocating as it does not fit the typical image of Western clinical practice. From her point of view, ‘community psychology’ must happen at many levels – not only training people to be professional counsellors and psychologists, but working with parents, teachers and caregivers to listen deeply and respond with acceptance to traumatised children, as well as identify certain symptoms that could indicate more serious underlying issues going on with their kids.
It is critical that these community structures be recognised and strengthened in the countries where we work – to ensure children are listened to, protected, and provided with the physical and psychological care they need. In parts of the world where chronic poverty, war and family breakdown leave millions of children traumatised, the need could not be greater.
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12 August marks International Youth Day, the theme of which this year is Youth and Mental Health. Join the conversation online using #IYD2014 and #MentalHealthMatters