Training Community Workers

in Responding to Mental Health Needs in the Aftermath of Pakistan's Floods

In March 2023, we offered a two-day awareness-raising session in collaboration with Shifaam, a digital healthcare platform, and Saharo Foundation, titled, Introduction to Mental Health First Aid for Flood Relief Workers in Pakistan. The Shifaam team along with Kindred’s Representative in Pakistan broadcasted the session from Karachi, the largest city of Pakistan, to community workers in two cities in the interior Sindh, Naushahro Feroze and Shahdadpur; Kindred team members, Carolina and Steve, joined in virtually from Colombia and Australia, respectively. The session was conducted in English and two local languages, Urdu and Sindhi. Aimed as an introductory space around community mental health, we combined theoretical and practical elements, with a strong emphasis on how to work with communities in the aftermath of recent floods.

On the first day, we began by sharing characteristics of community mental health, such as having the focus on communities, rather than on individuals, as well as the active role of communities defining language and methods. This was followed by an explanation of a development approach to mental health, clarifying how we work in partnership with clinical specialists at all times highlighting our work in varying contexts of Australia, India, Pakistan, Uganda and Colombia. We presented six concepts to describe the development approach: human rights; awareness; livelihoods; community engagement; equity and interculturality.

Having introduced those foundations, we then invited the participants to consider those elements in the context of a post-disaster situation. We focused on practical ways to support better community responses to mental health problems and combat stigma.

A psychotherapist and a clinical psychologist from Shifaam’s Health and Well-being Team introduced various mental health disorders relevant to a post-emergency context in terms of symptoms, basic assessment and management, according to WHO’s mhGAP Humanitarian Intervention Guide:

  • acute stress
  • grief
  • depression
  • post-traumatic stress disorders
  • child and adolescent behavioural disorders
  • abuse

These experts also demonstrated a deep breathing exercise and invited participants to participate.

To conclude, our team’s focus shifted to practical ways for community workers to incorporate psychological first aid principles in their work and conversations. Relevant conversational skills and tools such as hosting community meetings were mentioned too. ‘Social animation’ was introduced to participants, which was a new concept for many.

Overall, the participants indicated great interest and enthusiasm throughout the training. They shared many personal stories and those encountered in the community and sought advice. Most participants, out of 49 total, indicated no training or knowledge of mental health prior to this session and expressed gratitude at having gained knowledge now to help themselves and their community.