Challenging but rewarding: Coordinating mental health in Honduras | RVO.nl

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Challenging but rewarding: Coordinating mental health in Honduras

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Christian Guzmán Mazuelos is a Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Coordinator. He supports the humanitarian network in Latin America. Currently, he helps the humanitarian network in Honduras through the DSS water programme. His task is to better organise responses to new and longstanding multidimensional crises.

In 2020, 2 hurricanes struck Honduras at the end of the first COVID pandemic. The impact was devastating. Honduras is one of the countries with the highest vulnerability to climate change. Gang-related organised crime trouble the country. On top of that, there is a migratory crisis. This puts both Hondurans and refugees crossing unofficial border passages in danger. Moreover, Honduras is politically unstable, affecting national health policies and structures.
Local and international humanitarian organisations work under these conditions. They aim to strengthen mental health services and promote psychosocial well-being in Honduras. "They do good work. But to respond to emergencies such as hurricanes, they must work more coordinated", says Christian.

Coordinating relief efforts

With international humanitarian organisations, the MHPSS programme provides emergency relief support. One of the organisations active in Honduras is UNICEF. Through them, Christian engages local stakeholders to promote interagency coordination. He provides tools to help them plan and coordinate their initiatives. Also, he provides training courses on evidence-based MHPSS tools, manuals and methods that have proven successful. This allows agencies to provide their mental health services more effectively.

Christian promotes the importance of determining who does what, when and where. For this, he uses MHPSS's simple but powerful 4W tool. It allows the humanitarian network to arrange support in good time if an aid project stops, for example. Christian adds, "Because Honduras itself is not capable of providing that psychosocial support. With the 4W tool, you ensure that that help remains available."

Christian also trains project coordinators, developers and team managers. He wants them to understand each other, identify MHPSS needs, create new proposals, implement monitoring and evaluation systems and report their efforts effectively. "Part of my work is being somewhat of a translator", he says. "I try to make sure everyone speaks the same language. I do not tell them what to do, but I offer support so they can strengthen their resources."

Prevention

Christian's strategy coordination, training and tools through the MHPSS programme mainly focus on prevention. "We need to strengthen local resilience, working on preventing mental health needs. That way, we prevent many cases from becoming chronic and complicated. Because those are the cases that end up flooding public health services."

Honduras seriously lacks resources: for its 9.9 million citizens, only 56 psychologists are active nationwide in the public health system. So there is also work to be done in terms of clinical care. But by focusing on prevention, fewer people will reach the point where they need more specialised, more expensive interventions.

Working in the DSS MHPSS Programme

As a coordinator, Christian does not provide focused psychosocial support himself. Instead, he supports and works with those who provide these services to help them become more effective. "The professionals I work with are eager to learn and thankful for the advice and tools we bring. In Latin American countries, these tools are often seen as new, so work is still to be done."

Christian finds the work challenging. "Some local situations can be dangerous. You can meet people who are deeply affected by trauma." But for Christian, it is also a rewarding and affirming experience as it clarifies the importance of the concept of collective and social cohesion. It is the kind of work that you never do alone. You need to be able to rely on your partners. It is about collective coordination. That is the centre of the work you do as an MHPSS coordinator. I would definitely recommend others to do this. It is a challenge, but it is very rewarding."

Would you like to use your knowledge to help out in disaster areas?

Are you an expert in a particular sector? Would you like to help in water-related emergencies? DSS water is always looking for new experts. Learn more about DSS water and sign up to be one of our experts. Would you like to contribute to Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS)? Read more on the DSS MHPSS page.

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