Mental health plays a key role in breaking the cycle of poverty, though it’s an area of health care that is often overlooked, especially in the international development sector.

Until recent years, mental health has been a somewhat overlooked topic, especially in the international development sector. Whether due to positive or negative experiences, we all feel pressure or tension at different points of life. But individuals in developing countries often contend with additional factors – like violence and lack of access to mental health resources and providers – which only exacerbate depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and other mental health issues.

Mental health care became a personal concern after the birth of my daughter. Faced with complications during labor, a major sleep deficit and all the new mom feels, I found myself struggling with postpartum anxiety. A number of “typical” life events – such as getting married, major illness, job loss or a significant move – can trigger a mental, physical or emotional response that requires attention. At the very base level, our bodies are wired to respond to these stressors in order to survive. But what happens when your life has increased stress and hardships on a regular basis? 

For individuals living in poverty, this is the reality. The struggles they grapple with on a daily basis deplete mental and physical energy. We are talking about things that many of us would consider necessities, like access to shelter, food, education, clean water and sanitation. And the constant effort to meet these basic needs feeds the cycle of poverty, which only continues to intensify as new outside stressors occur – like forced migration due to conflict or a natural disaster.

Much like poverty, mental health issues do not exist in a vacuum. And they cannot be treated in one either. 

That’s why Children International (CI), a Global Impact’s charity partner, is tackling the issue at the source, addressing mental health issues across their programs. Their goal is to put an end to the cycle of poverty by cultivating resilience in children like Johanny Amaya, a CI sponsored child who overcame suicidal thoughts and is now a thriving educator. 

“I know I am a result of my past, but that doesn’t mean I will always be a prisoner of that past.” — Johanny Amaya

One of the newer mental health initiatives Children International is applying to their programs is the Turning Point curriculum, developed by The University of Kansas Health System, CI staff and volunteers. The curriculum incorporates ten components to help increase resilience behaviors, including calming and caring for oneself, staying optimistic, and seeking out social support. Turning Point was first tested in 2017, and in 2018, it was rolled out to more than 2,000 children in both Mexico and India. 

10 facets of resilience

Although CI teaches all ten facets of resilience, the pilot programs in Mexico and India focused on measuring the impact of self-care, identifying emotions and self-calming techniques. The staff, children and caregivers all reported positive results. 

Results

“Without question, even after a relatively short period of time, we’ve seen that the resilience program is improving the mental health of our children and youth,” said Susana Eshleman, president and CEO of Children International. “Better mental health is key because we know it’s easier for mentally healthy kids living in poverty to pursue education, feel empowered, become employed and break the cycle of poverty.”

We are so grateful to organizations like Children International who are prioritizing mental health in their programming, working to bring mental health support to communities in need, end the stigmas and heal the invisible wounds that are just as important as the physical.