Indonesia: AusAID acted on WHO strategies addressing mental health crisis

Sydney, Indonesia-Relief -- Massive loss of infrastructure and trained people put Aceh's capacity to deliver mental health services at particular risk.
That's according to World Health Organisation consultant and Director of the Centre for International Mental Health at the University of Melbourne, Professor Harry Minas.

WHO analysed the findings of consultants and reports from mental health workers in the field attending to tsunami survivors, to suggest community strategies as the way to restore services.

The UN agency wanted tsunami-affected governments to grasp the opportunity of reconstruction aid and donor funding, to use strategies drawn up by its planners.

The strategies included providing social and psychological support through re-opening schools, reuniting families and organizing child-friendly services.

Also simple psychological interventions, like training community health workers in basic counselling skills.

Australia's AusAID agency was among others quick to act on the community strategies, when it announced A$3 million to fund the construction of village halls, starting with 66 in the most devastated areas of Aceh Besar.

WHO said that the disaster could have doubled the usual 10 percent prevalence of mild and moderate common mental disorders in the general population.

Severe mental health problems, such as psychosis or severe depression, could have increased to 4 percent of the population.

In the field attending to relief, mental health workers had to deal with grief reactions, depression with suicidal tendencies, post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions.

Children were noted to be at particular risk, as a survey in Sri Lanka found where as many as 40 percent of child survivors were believed to be suffering PTSD.

The community strategies are regarded as essential to help survivors likely to spend years wrestling with the mental impact.

''Economic loss, loss of loved ones, need for livelihood - and stress reactions, emotional issues related to loss some anxiety, especially at night, demoralization and psychosomatic complaints'' - was the description of causes used by a mental health expert working in Aceh, Bhava Nath Poudyal of International Catholic Migration Commission.=A9 alan