“Mental Health Cannot Wait”

Oct. 5, 2021

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Every child has the right to a life free from distress. It’s as important to their wellbeing as food, water and shelter. Yet almost every nation is failing them - especially the children who need it most. This is the message Patrick Kumi (22) will take to a major mental health summit in Paris today. The same message he shared with us from his home in a refugee camp in Uganda...

War, Flight and Separation

“Patrick, can you hear us?” Despite being caught mid rain shower with a bad connection, Patrick goes out of his way to stay on the line and talk to his colleagues at War Child. After fleeing his home in South Sudan five years ago, and ending up in Bidibidi - the largest refugee settlement in the world - he has lived through things that most people struggle to comprehend.

Patrick: “When we fled the war at home, I was separated from my family. I didn’t know where they were. I thought they were dead.”

It was months before Patrick was reunited with his parents and siblings. What he didn’t know then was how much these experiences had affected his mental health…

“The not knowing; the perturbing feeling that I could be an orphan - that was the hardest.”

Youth Are The Key

And Patrick isn’t alone in his struggles. In his area, suicide rates are high and predicted to get even higher due to the fear and isolation inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Patrick: “My neighbour attempted to take his life only a few weeks ago. When his family found out, they held a prayer. They assumed it was an evil spirit.”

With services few or non-existent and mental health a taboo across much of Africa, how can conflict-affected children even begin to overcome these challenges? “We need to change attitudes”, says Patrick. “Cases aren’t being identified because of the taboo - that’s when problems can escalate.”

And who does he mean by ‘we’? “I mean people like me”, he replies with conviction. “NGOs and governments are trying their best, but it’s a long road. Ask us - the children, the youth - we are the experts. We own our communities and know exactly what we want.”

"We are the experts. We own our communities and know exactly what we want."

Empty Promises

Patrick will lead with this message today, having personally endorsed a set of recommendations developed by War Child. These key recommendations will steer the 2-day debate, which will see government ministers, humanitarians, policy makers and sector experts come together to accelerate international momentum for protecting the right to mental health.

“Our recent study with World Vision reveals that USD 2.5 billion is urgently needed to tackle the impact of COVID-19 on children in conflict’s mental health”, says War Child Director of Research and Development and Professor or Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Mark Jordans. “Currently, funding for psychosocial support makes up just 1 per cent of all humanitarian healthcare funding. That’s not good enough.”

“Mind Our Rights, Now!”

It also falls at odds with the promises made at the Amsterdam summit two years earlier - where attendees agreed to make mental health and psychosocial support a leading component of humanitarian aid responses. “The 2019 summit was a landmark moment”, says War Child CEO, Ramin Shahzamani. “It was the first time in 25 years of War Child’s existence that this important topic got the recognition it deserves.

“Now, governments need to put their money where their mouth is.”

For Patrick, the mood remains equally hopeful. Patrick: “Psychosocial support - especially if delivered through local structures - is inexpensive. I came out the other side thanks to my friends; the songs they sent me. A little bit of support can go a long way.”