World Mental Health Day: ACP, BPC & Refugee Council message
A message from the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP), the British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC) and Refugee Council to mark World Mental Health Day.
The ACP has teamed up with the BPC and the Refugee Council to support this year’s World Mental Health Day, which aims to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to combat stigma around mental health.
A Different Kind of Normal
Drawing on this year’s theme of Dignity, the ACP, BPC and Refugee Council are taking this opportunity to focus on the migrant crisis in Europe and the thousands of people, families and unaccompanied children fleeing their war-torn homelands.
For them trauma has become a normality. Something they live with every day - it feels normal to them.
Our job as therapists working with displaced adults, young people and children is to help them feel connected to others again, to regain that sense of feeling normal despite the traumatic experiences they have suffered since leaving their lives and homes behind.
We are trying to help give them back their dignity.
Migrants are telling the world: “At home we had war, but at least we had dignity”. Seeking sanctuary in Europe, thousands are finding they are treated like “animals”.
ACP member and Child Psychotherapist Ruth Glover visited the migrant camp in Calais known as the ‘Jungle’ last month.
“People were cold wearing flip flops and sometimes shoeless. Children were struggling with adult shoes.”
“The fact that traumatised people who have already lived through so much unimaginable atrocity were now living here in this ‘slum’ was devastating.”
“We [as child psychotherapists] are used to working with trauma and extreme disturbance. We see how heavily the experience of intergenerational trauma and displacement can land on developing minds.”
“For the current children and families in the world seeking safety…by keeping them in places like this rather than helping them to feel safe and valued, their trauma is being compounded. This in turn, is likely to contribute to the development of mental health difficulties in future generations.”
Helping young survivors
The Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile, based in London, has been helping traumatised children and young people fleeing from political violence since it was set up in 2008.
Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist Sheila Melzak, the centre’s Executive and Clinical Director, says referrals are going up as more people are aware of the centre and its vital work.
“We have a holistic integrated approach as research shows these traumatised young people are helped best when their various needs are met in one place.”
“When they come to us they feel marginalised, invisible and bad about what’s happened to them. They feel responsible for the abuse they have suffered.”
“In some cases it is physical violence to their bodies, or they have been trafficked for work or sex. Others have been present when their parents have been killed and feel they should have done something to stop it.”
“We help them to restore their dignity by building resilience. Their trust has been broken. By giving them a role in our therapeutic community we help give back their dignity and self-respect.”
“We are inspired by how they develop and how they move forward with hope.”
Helping adult survivors
The Refugee Therapy Centre established in 2000 engages children adults and families who have experienced persecution and torture.
BPC registrant Lennox Thomas, a Consultant Psychotherapist and Child and Family Psychotherapist, has found that psychological problems do not only present themselves on their arrival in the place of refuge.
“Disturbance can often be triggered by an incident which brings feelings of fear and panic leading the individual to act rashly. This has been the case with many young people who had appeared to have settled well but then have a breakdown, seemingly out of the blue.”
“Many people seem to cope with the dislocation in a practical way, accepting reduced circumstances with dignity and gratitude for the opportunity of a life without fear, until the trauma that has ‘incubated’ demands to be dealt with.”
“A man who attended the centre said that he realised that thing were not ok when he had collected his children from primary school and a car backfired, he grabbed them and crouched behind a garden wall frozen for several minutes, this took place six years after being in this country.”
Trauma and resilience
Refugee Council Therapeutic Services Manager Angelina Jalonen says:
“Refugees arriving in Britain have often suffered extreme trauma, both in their home countries and during their perilous search for safety.
“Upon arrival in Britain, this trauma can be compounded by stress and anxiety about the complex asylum process refugees are faced with. They worry about accommodation, food, education, access to legal advice, detention, fear of removal or destitution and homelessness.
“Yet with the right support, refugees repeatedly prove themselves to be extremely resilient: these are the survivors of wars, of tyranny and unimaginable persecution.”
What hope for the future?
Medecins Sans Frontieres psychologist Marina Spyridaki, who has been working with refugees on the Greek island of Kos, says:
"I am here offering psychosocial support to people wherever they need it - I hold sessions in the park, the port, wherever there are refugees trying to live."
"The children do talk to us about wanting to go home, but I think they mean home as somewhere safe, away from war and away from the streets of Kos."
"Parents say their children's behaviour changed after the dangerous boat ride from Turkey to Kos, and that now they cry a lot. Often our role involves supporting the parents in how to deal with such changes in behaviour and offer comfort to their children."
"It really worries me that these children have endured so much, including war in their country and the trip across the sea. Unless they settle down in a stable home and are given love and protection, it will be very difficult for them."
For further information call Nina Jacobs, ACP Communications officer, on 07976 740 489 or Alison Roy, ACP Media and Communications Lead, on 07801 803 579 or Peter Hudson, BPC Policy and Public Affairs Officer, on 07535717716.