Mental health and stigmas regarding mental illness are serious issues that need to be addressed but are often overlooked and placed last on political and humanitarian priority lists. This training program which will be available on a website and app will train employees on how to identify mental illness, resolve issues within the community and navigate through the different cultural stigmas.
One of the main challenges working in the humanitarian and development sector while trying to assist people with mental health issues is stigma. Stigma occurs in every culture however the real issue is that there are different reasons for those stigmas depending on which culture you are in. For example, China’s social nature is embedded with the notion of in- groups and out-groups. The in-group, which consists of the family you were born into, your friends (often associated with the family) and co-workers all rely on each other to keep a good reputation in the community. If however one person acts or behaves against societal norms, the group will often abandon them. This is very real for people who suffer from a mental illness. Individuals who suffer from depression or anxiety for example, will often keep it to themselves and suffer alone. In Guyana, there is a huge belief that people who act erratically, talk to themselves and speak with things that no one else can see (as what we would call common symptoms of Schizophrenia) are possessed by evil spirits. Unfortunately there are many instances where people with Schizophrenia attempt suicide or our murdered by other members of the community simply because they are afraid of them. These are just two of hundreds of examples where differences in cultural stigmas can make it difficult for humanitarian and development workers to assist or solve mental health issues in communities.
This mental health app/website will be purchased by health organizations who will use it to train their employees on how to identify symptoms of various mental illnesses, dissolve issues regarding mental illness within the community and how navigate through the different cultural stigmas. The program comprises of 5 main components which entails the initial Training Program and 4 additional tools to help individuals while working in the field. These 4 tools are: a Symptom Identification tool, a Culture Database tool, an Activity Database tool and a Support Chat Room to talk with other workers in the field along with Psychologists/Counselors. This unique training program will not only educate employees on mental illness but will also allow them to tailor the program specifically to a country/culture they will be working in. Additionally, it will also ask the individual if they plan on training a community on how to deal with mental illness and resolve issues. The program will then add an additional section where they will be trained to train others.
This program aims to fill the gap between organizations and helping people with mental illnesses. The gap being that there is currently no sound mental health training program that specifically talks about cultural stigma which is one of the main barriers to solving this issue.
Whether I proceed in this competition or not, I would love your honest opinion about this idea along with critical feedback.
Strengths & Weaknesses
Some of the critical assumptions that I've made is that international development workers will have some sort of power source (at least with their phones) when they are in the field. This is particularly concerning for people working in humanitarian relief situations. For people with no internet connection, we are hoping to develop an offline version of the review of their training program along with the tools.
Most Significant Challenge
I anticipate that the most significant challenges of this venture will be building the Culture Database as we need to find valid and reliable resources to pull from. If possible, a partnership with an organization such as CAMH or even WHO would be ideal.
Another challenge would be building a proper support system such as having the option to contact a psychologist or counselor at anytime.
Another potential partnership would be in the area of developing a mental health program in a emergency response.