UNFPA establishes mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) online platform to connect those who need MHPSS services and Mental Health Professionals.
“People experience different mental health and psychosocial issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic and political crisis. The range of issues may vary from stress and anxiety at one end of the spectrum to acute depression on the other end depending upon the individual’s situation. It is important that they seek and receive professional support to exercise positive coping mechanism to overcome their emotion and stress in this difficult time. My job is to provide professional mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services to help people overcome the stressful situation and make them feel comfortable to handle their own issues in a positive manner,” said Dr Nyunt, Mental Health Professional.
COVID-19 & mental health and psychosocial issues
COVID-19 has a significant impact on the mental health and psychosocial condition of society. Individuals may experience anxiety and stress associated with fear of infection, fear of death, social distancing, quarantine, misinformation, and uncertainty of the future. In addition, frontline responders such as medical doctors, nurses, and midwives, who are involved in response efforts may also experience physical, personal, social, and emotional stress in carrying out their duties over an extended period. Therefore, mental health and psychosocial aspects of COVID-19 need to be considered as a priority.
Mental health and psychosocial issues have been reported as pivotal public health concerns in the Asia-Pacific region due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While it is difficult to access the comprehensive mental health data on Myanmar, an article published in BMC Public Health in January 2020 indicates that the prevalence of mental distress was 18.0% for men and women aged 18-49 years from Yangon region. The rate is higher for women (21.2%) compared to men (14.9%). Another article from Asian Journal of Psychiatry volume 61 published in 2021 refers to data from 2016 and indicates that the prevalence of reported depressive symptoms among adolescents in Myanmar is 27.2% and that of suicidal ideation is 9.4% -both of which are substantially higher than the regional averages. Data from the Mental Health Hospital in Yangon shows that the number of patients treated for mental illness in institutions increased by 58% between 2013 and 2017.
UNFPA’s support on MHPSS in Myanmar
In order to meet the rapidly growing demand for MHPSS in a timely manner, in May 2020, UNFPA established a roster of four national MHPSS experts. These certified counselors and psychiatrists have been engaged to train humanitarian actors on MHPSS, enabling community-based mental health care for the populations they support, including GBV survivors, elderly, people with disabilities, LGBTQI+, drug users, and other vulnerable populations, including people at the quarantine centres. The roster members also provide self-care sessions for service providers to improve their psychosocial well-being and share practical tips for managing difficult circumstances.
From May 2020 up to now, more than 2,700 participants from more than 30 different organizations, including local and international NGOs, UN agencies, Ethnic Health Organizations, and CSOs, attended MHPSS capacity building/self-care sessions organized by UNFPA. On call basis, MHPSS roster team also provides MHPSS services, including individual counseling, psychotherapy, and family support, for UN staff and family members.
MHPSS services through online portal
With the increasing needs for MHPSS and request from implementing partners and UN agencies, UNFPA has created the MHPSS online portal as a platform to connect those who need MHPSS services and Mental Health Professionals in May 2021. The platform is expected to meet people's needs for MHPSS services by making it more accessible to the people in Myanmar. Basic emotional support, psychological first aid (PFA), counseling, psychotherapy, and psychoeducation services are available through the portal. Mental health practitioners from the team are trained in various psychotherapy approaches, including IAT (Integrative ADAPT Therapy), EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing), CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy), and interpersonal therapy for children and adolescents. In collaboration with UNICEF, mental health practitioners for children and adolescents are also now on board.
“We have 10 mental health professionals with diverse backgrounds including clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and professional counselors to respond to the requests through the online portal. Four of our specialists are focused on children and adolescents. On the portal, the client can select which mental health professional he/she prefers and make the appointment confidentially. For the safety and security of our service providers, we do not mention any identification of our mental health professionals such as names or phone numbers. From the establishment of this platform in May 2021 until August 2021, 97 sessions for 70 clients across Myanmar were organized,” said Adib Asrori, UNFPA’s MHPSS Programme Specialist.
Mental health and psychosocial support must be at the center of everyone’s attention
Due to the significant impact of COVID-19 on mental health and psychosocial aspects, people are beginning to realize the importance of maintaining their emotional stability and mental wellbeing. In addition, the political crisis has exacerbated mental health and psychosocial needs due to its negative impacts on movement and personal security, access to information and communication, access to basic services, livelihoods, and food security.
Dr Nyunt said, “Normally, people treat physical injuries and illness as a priority. They tend to overlook the impact on mental health and psychosocial wellbeing until they experience its severe consequences. For instance, a person with mental health and psychosocial problems is more like someone standing on the edge. When out of control, he/she can fall off anytime. We need to hold their hands until they can control themselves. This is what we as mental health professionals are doing every day.”
He added, “Mental health and psychosocial wellbeing must be at the center of everyone’s attention.”
MHPSS online portal can be accessed through the following link. Both English and Myanmar languages are available. https://www.mentalhealthsupportmyanmar.org