Human development that considers the well-being of the whole person requires that the root causes and triggers of conflict and violence in communities are addressed. This includes addressing structural and systemic injustices, treating various forms of trauma, building resilience and providing skills to manage the dynamics of traumatic experiences.
A lack of programs to help individuals and communities bounce back or function after serious trauma often perpetuates cycles of violence, preventing peace and stability.
Historically, the emergence and evolution of trauma has informed creative responses. One modern response is Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) from the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. This framework grew out of the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001, in the United States.
STAR provides a model for group processing of trauma, psychological first aid, and individual and group healing and recovery. It has been used and adapted in diverse contexts globally after violent conflict, emergencies and other shocks.
Trauma informed and trauma response frameworks are constantly evolving. Responses toward psychosocial well-being are as old as humanity itself. Programs like STAR work to increase resilience, help individuals bounce back and function, and build on one’s innate capacity to manage the psychological burden caused by mental stress and trauma.
Historically, foreign assistance programs that focus on mental health and emotional well-being have received much less attention than those that focus on meeting physical needs. According to the World Health Organization, countries spend on average only 2% of their health budgets on mental health.
Also, international development assistance for mental health has never exceeded 1% of all health-related development assistance. Nearly one billion people globally have a mental health disorder and those with severe disorders tend to die 10-20 years earlier than the average life expectancy.
Healing and rebuilding in Nigeria
In working toward sustainable peace in Nigeria, Mennonite Central Committee supports partners as they respond to various types of trauma caused by poverty, marginalization, grief, the disruption of social networks and other factors.
Trauma informed models such as Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) and Psychological First Aid (PFA) aim to increase resilience and re-integration in communities affected by violence by equipping participants with peacebuilding and alternatives-to-violence response skills.
Many years of localized conflicts and violence, mass atrocity crimes, civil war and lethal responses to peaceful protests have caused post-traumatic stress disorder in individuals and planted seeds of generational trauma. These seeds of trauma, when untreated and unaddressed, lead to cycles of reprisal, animosity, bias, unforgiveness and retraumatization.
Indispensably, the causes and triggers of trauma must also be addressed, including poor governance, corruption, poverty and unemployment, ethnoreligious and other forms of conflict, weak judicial and security structures and media apathy.
Currently in Nigeria, more than two million people are internally displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency and more than 10 million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. As in the United States, some attitudes and cultural understandings portray mental health as a stigma, which can impede individuals from seeking help and stymie calls for more government funding.
Effective psychosocial support programs respond to disrupted social networks and communal structures, provide specialized mental health interventions and treat mental health disorders with effective, contextualized and accessible screening, diagnosis and treatment. Without such programs, largescale, unresolved trauma in communities has a significant detrimental impact on attempts at conflict reduction, resolution and peace.
Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) programing as part of a holistic peacebuilding strategy enhances stability and security in conflict-affected communities. Currently, MHPSS programs are spread out through various foreign assistance accounts in the U.S. federal budget. The lack of a designated account adversely affects relief, development and peacebuilding efforts.
Congress should create a dedicated foreign assistance account for MHPSS programs by passing the Mental Health in International Development Settings (MINDS) Act (H.R. 3988 and S. 2105). If passed, the MINDS Act would create a new “Title III” account in the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs budget for MHPSS programing administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. State Department.
Furthermore, U.S. foreign assistance for MHPSS programs should be increased, particularly funding directed to local projects for capacity building, resilience and community trust-building. And, U.S. funded MHPSS programing must be context-sensitive, proactive, and flexible, incorporating local knowledge about cultural and traditional sources of resilience.
To prevent mental and psychological breakdown in traumatized communities, funding mechanisms must also incorporate memorialization projects which show respect, honor and remembrance for victims, thereby supporting recovery from grief and pain and breaking the cycle of violence.
Find more stories and resources in the Fall/Winter 2021 Washington Memo: Carrying heavy burdens: Trauma healing and psychosocial support.