Earthquake Response

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Earthquake Response:

HeartMind International is working with its partner organization TPO-Nepal to support mental health and psychosocial services in Kathmandu and throughout affected areas of Nepal. HeartMind International is supporting:

  • Psychological first aid for affected communities
  • Psychological first aid training for first responders, community health workers, and NGO workers
  • Care for children and families with loved ones who are missing, deceased, or injured in the earthquake
  • Coordination of psychosocial support within housing, security, food and water, and medical services
  • Referral and specialized services with persons and families in need of immediate support
  • Community-based monitoring for families and children for long-term effects of earthquake related distress

UPDATE - Winter 2016: Helping school children recover from the Nepal earthquake

In 2015, HeartMind International initiated school mental health programs for adolescents affected by the earthquakes in Nepal. Informed by principles of an evidence-based treatment, our 6-session program with ongoing support was designed to help students to manage their emotional responses to the earthquakes and cope with related stress. Through interactive and culturally grounded exercises, students learned skills for building and maintaining healthy relationships, normalizing their emotional experiences, self-soothing during difficult moments, and monitoring their internal reactions with compassion and curiosity. In the next wave of the program, HMI will extend its reach by training local teachers to effectively deliver the intervention.


UPDATE - Summer 2015:

It has been three months since the first of multiple devastating earthquakes hit Nepal killing more than 8000 people and affecting the lives of 8 million. Health workers throughout the earthquake-affected regions have reported patients presenting with nightmares, difficulty sleeping, fear of staying indoors, and a range of bodily complaints including headaches, heart palpitations, and the constant feeling that the earth is shaking.


This month, the Government of Nepal, Ministry of Health and Population, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Transcultural Psychosocial Organization Nepal (TPO Nepal), conducted a program for Nepali psychiatrists to prepare them to train primary care health workers on mental health and psychosocial care for earthquake-affected men, women, and children throughout Nepal. Dr. Rishav Koirala, the WHO mental health focal person in Nepal, and Dr. Brandon Kohrt, technical advisor to TPO Nepal and founding director of HeartMind International, trained 14 psychiatrists on the WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme Humanitarian Intervention Guide (mhGAP-HIG), a tool released in May 2015 to integrate mental health into primary care and community based services during humanitarian emergencies.


Dr. Sagun Pant, a psychiatrist who recently completed training at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital/Institute of Medicine explained, “What we are trying to do is make a whole specialty into something that is very cost-effective, very feasible, and very available. And, it is integrated in primary health care because there is a big need in the public health care sector. You can't send psychiatrists everywhere. If this can be done for HIV, why can't it be done for mental health? … I've always believed and I've always wished to work in community interventions, and this is one big community intervention."

Dr. Madhur Basnet, a psychiatrist from B.P. Koirala Institute of Health Sciences added that primary care-based services allow people to get mental health treatment in a way that does not stigmatize. “People feel that it's easier to visit these general doctors than to visit psychiatrists because of the stigma. If doctors are trained well, and if people get good service, I think that will help in breaking the stigma among the people much more easily… One of the most important parts from this mhGAP-HIG is that it has emphasized empowering the patients, giving them the knowledge of illness and then empowering them in their involvement in the treatment as well."

The training emphasized promoting personal, family, and community resilience by building upon existing psychosocial coping strategies. A central component of the training is promoting these psychosocial services and minimizing inappropriate and potentially harmful use of medications in primary care for trauma affected communities.

Dr. Sunil Shah, a senior psychiatrist working a mental health hospital in southern Nepal, remarked on the emphasis on psychosocial skills: "[mhGAP-HIG] is a guide that orients beginning from the basic qualities of what a physician needs. It's not just psychiatrists who need to build trust between the patient and the doctor, it is not just psychiatrists that need to prioritize their patients and understand their patients. All doctors, all healthcare workers need to build trust, need to listen, need to sit down and understand, and help the patient understand the real situation and how one can be healthy in the long run… These issues are helpful for all healthcare providers."

A special presentation on child mental health in humanitarian settings was given by Dr. Sacheen Shrestha, a child & adolescent psychiatrist based in North Carolina who is volunteering with Disaster Psychiatry Outreach. Dr. Shrestha’s presentation reinforced the need for child, family, and community-based psychosocial services including school-based programs.

Certificates were distributed and closing remarks were given by honorary guests including Dr. Sherchan Shrestha of Patan Mental Hospital, Dr. Edwin Ceniza Salvador of WHO, and Suraj Koirala, Executive Manager of TPO Nepal. The participants will embark on training and supervising primary care workers to provide services to residents of earthquake-affected districts of Nepal.


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