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Psycho-social support

Breaking Down the Silos: Reflection on the “Invisible Wounds” Meeting

Mike Wessells's picture

Speaking as a psychosocial practitioner-researcher, the World Bank's recent “Invisible Wounds” conference, which enabled a rich dialogue between psychologists and the Bank's economically-oriented staff, was a breath of fresh air. In most war zones, humanitarian efforts to provide mental health and psychosocial support and economic aid to vulnerable people have frequently been conducted in separate silos. Unfortunately, this division does not fit with the interacting psychosocial and economic needs seen in war zones, and it misses important opportunities for strengthening supports for vulnerable people.
 
A case in point comes from my work (together with Susan McKay, Angela Veale, and Miranda Worthen) on the reintegration of formerly recruited girl mothers in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and northern Uganda. These girls had been powerfully impacted by their war experiences, which included displacement, capture, sexual violence, exposure to killing and deaths, and mothering, among others. After the ceasefire, they were badly stigmatized as “rebel girls” and were distressed over their inability to meet basic needs and to be good mothers. The provision of economic aid alone would likely have had limited effects since the girls believed that they were not fit for economic activity (many saw themselves as spiritually contaminated and as having “unsteady minds”), and they were so stigmatized that people would not do business with them. Similarly, the provision of psychosocial assistance alone likely would have had limited effects because the girls desperately needed livelihoods in order to reduce their economic distress and be good mothers.