Saturday 20 March 2010

Culture and Diversity in Member Care—Part 4

Well-Being for All

 Would you tell me the way to Somewhere…
There’s room from for us all in Somewhere…
The Somewhere meant for me.
Walter de la Mare

“Mental health is defined as a state of well-being
in which every individual realizes his or her own potential,
can cope with the normal stresses of life,
can work productively and fruitfully,
and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
World Health Organization, October 2009
Promoting the well-being of mission/aid workers is the major focus of member care. As we support workers with our services/resources we also vicariously support the people with whom they work. Some of these people, along with their friends, relatives, communities, and indeed nations are seriously affected by mental, neurological, and substance use disorders.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) these disorders “are common in all regions of the world, affecting every community and age group across all income countries. While 14% of the global burden of disease is attributed to these disorders, most of the people affected—75% in many low-income countries—do not have access to the treatment they need.” (WHO, launch of the mhGAP program, In addition, “people with these disorders are often subjected to social isolation, poor quality of life and increased mortality. These disorders are the cause of staggering economic and social costs.” (WHO Department of mental health, The Bare Facts

Making Connnections
Is there a connection between member care, the international mental health field, and the emphasis on human diversity/cultural variation? You bet! One way to better support mission/aid workers via member care is by equipping all of us to better understand: a) how mental health issues affect the diversity of people with whom we all work and b) how a particular culture understands/deals with mental health issues. Sadly, in many cases there will be major misinformation, stigma, and lack of resources to help those who struggle with mental health. Mental health per se may also not be an important component of discipleship, church growth, relief care, human rights, or other emphases in mission/aid. It could be and should be. 

One practical way for those in member care to help is to connect with some of the core materials from organizations like WHO. For example, have a look through the WHO web site in the mental health area section. Much of it is designed to give people a quick grasp of the worldwide mental health situation.

Some suggestions:
1. Begin with these two multimedia items:
**Watch the five minute video about WHO’s 2008 mhGap program. This video gives a good overview of international mental health needs and makes a plea to work together to help people to promote mental health for all. There is no health without mental health!

2. Then have a look at:
**The Bare Facts is a  fact sheet on mental health statistics (e.g., an estimated 877,000 people commit suicide each year).
**Some core reflections on human rights, law, and mental health.

3. For more detailed reviews and information:
**Links to special articles that review global mental health in the Lancet journal from the UK (2007).
**The Mental Health Atlas from 2005 which “provides essential information on mental health for 192 countries includes including epidemiology, mental health policy, substance abuse policy, national mental health programme…mental health facilities…and other relevant information.”

One need not be a mental health professional to benefit from the information and resources listed on the WHO site! You will likely find the material to be practical for your own life and work in member care and mission/aid. Remember: an important part of respecting human diversity involves respecting people from all cultures who struggle with mental disorders. They especially are vulnerable and have rights to adequate care, opportunities, and well-being.

More Thoughts on Mental Health/Member Care
“Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are affected by mental, behavioural, neurological and substance use disorders. For example, estimates made by WHO in 2002 showed that 154 million people globally suffer from depression and 25 million people from schizophrenia; 91 million people are affected by alcohol use disorders and 15 million by drug use disorders. A recently published WHO report shows that 50 million people suffer from epilepsy and 24 million from Alzheimer and other dementias.” (WHO, The Bare Facts,

Mission/aid personnel are often in influential places where they can help make a difference. Greater awareness and some basic training about mental health issues especially in their setting/cultural context can be a great way to support their work with others. Member care workers themselves can also consider ways—new ways—to use their training to help make a difference in the diverse settings where mission/aid workers are located. There are plenty of national Christian workers (12 million) along with “foreign” mission workers (4000,000) who could be better supported and further trained to consider mental health issues in the ministry/work that they are doing. (stas from Johnson, Barrett, an Crossing, January 2010, International Bulletin of Missionary Research).

Reflection and Discussion--And Leave A Comment!
1. Respond to the rationale above that advocates for the increased involvement of the member care field in international mental health issues. For instance, is this a distraction, a specialized focus, a responsibility, an opportunity, etc? Are there any other rationales that are impportant to mention?

2. Briefly describe how linking member care and international mental health relates to respecting human diversity/cultural variation.

3. An emphasis on respecting human diversity and cultural variation may not always have a positive impact on the quality of member care that we provide mission/aid workers. How is this so? Give a couple examples.

4. What are some possible ways that you and your organizations could get better informed and practically involved in mental health as described above? What would you specifically like to do?

5. Which of the mental health materials on the WHO web site were the most helpful for you? How could you share these materials with others?

1 comment:

Marietjie said...

A good book you can read, if you have not already, is Member Care for Missionaries by Marina Prins. Visit her website: