Men Require Psychosocial Support Too, Just Like All Other Affected Populations
Addis Ababa—In the aftermath of a crisis, it is common for the humanitarian community to focus on vulnerable persons of concern, and typically they are children, women, and persons with disabilities. Men are often thought of as not needing any psychosocial support. Often community centres like child friendly spaces are designed to welcome females and children.
On a fateful night in October 2018, Motuma*, a married 50-year old and father of six, was at his home in Eastern Wollega (central Oromia Region of Ethiopia) when internal conflict broke out in the adjacent Benishangul Region and soon spread to his town. It all happened suddenly and was extremely violent. Motuma witnessed people getting killed as he – along with his family – were escaping the area hoping to leave the violence behind.
Once in the relative safety of a nearby town, and he thought the situation had calmed, Motuma decided to venture back to his village. He was planning to retrieve some of his family’s belongings and check in on his herd of 20 cattle.
Motuma was frozen in shock seeing his house burnt to the ground and all his belongings gone. To make matters worse, some of the perpetrators were still on his property. Motuma ran for his life and managed to outrun his pursuers, reaching a nearby forest, where he hid for several days without food or water. When he thought it was safe to leave the forest, Motuma found his way to an internally displaced persons (IDP) site where he was eventually reunited with his family.
Motuma is among the 390,000 adult men who were displaced during the conflict which displaced more than 2.3 million people last year. Since then, he has struggled to recover from the distress he suffered.
“I felt completely destroyed, and even though I’m doing much better now, I doubt my life will ever be the same after what we went through as a family.” Even in the relative safety of living in a collective site, food was scarce, land, livelihoods, and all belongings were forever lost, and the pain of not being able to provide for his family – which he did before – was almost unbearable for Motuma. There were even times when his family had to live under an open sky and fell severely sick under harsh weather conditions.
After the incident, Motuma had become overwhelmed by the situation, had practically no energy left, became isolated and restless with poor sleeping patterns, and even attempted suicide to end the feeling of helplessness. “I felt like I was carrying the whole world on my shoulders for not being able to support my family the way I wanted to. I felt useless, ashamed and guilty for not addressing their needs.”
Melat* – Motuma’s wife – talked him out of his suicidal thoughts and upon attending an awareness session organized by IOM – for people with psychosocial needs, he was referred for additional counselling for seven weeks.
As weeks went by, Motuma gradually regained his hope and mental strength, started to lose the feeling of always being negatively judged by his family and surroundings, and started to focus on what he could do instead of what he couldn’t. Following sessions with the International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s trained counsellors using their survivor-centred approach, Motuma is now in a much better mental space and has recovered sufficiently without having to resort to psychotropic medication, a treatment that he declined. He has started working again in the fields using the support of IOM’s other emergency relief projects.
Slowly but surely, the psychosocial support counselling sessions helped restore his desire to live fully again by reactivating his personal resilience and by helping him dig deeper to find his inner strengths. As Motuma pieces his life together with his regained belief, he serves as an example how it is important to recognize that there is no gender or age divide in requiring or providing psychosocial support.
“The need for psychosocial support for men, and appropriate services for them is often undermined by humanitarian organizations and donors, but men are as mentally affected as the rest of the community when it comes to displacement, and services should be inclusive,” said Stéphanie Duvergé, Mental Health Psychosocial Project Coordinator for IOM Ethiopia.
“In October, to mark World Mental Health Day, we shared the important message in our communication materials that Anyone Can Be Affected, But Everyone Can Heal," said Duvergé adding that this year’s global message Working Together to Prevent Suicide rightly highlighted this concern.
* Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
For more information, please contact Stéphanie Duvergé at IOM Ethiopia, Tel: +251 11 6611117, email@example.com or Alemayehu Seifeselassie, Tel: +251 11 6611117 (Ext. 1455), Mobile: +251 91 163 9082, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org