Two months after the opening of mental health and psychosocial support services at the Health Post in Camp 1W of Kutupalong Refugee Camp supported by Community Partners International (CPI), dozens of Rohingya refugees and Bangladesh host community members have sought assistance. Health Post psychologist Rahima Preety talks about the challenges they face and how she works to help them.
The mental health crisis facing Rohingya refugees sheltering in Bangladesh has been documented in several studies conducted since 2017. For example, a 2018 study identified that nearly 90% of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh suffer from mental health issues. Alongside historical human rights violations experienced in Myanmar (Burma), Rohinya refugees also have to cope with difficult conditions living as refugees in Bangladesh. A more recent study published in March 2022 found that refugees’ mental health had significantly deteriorated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Health Post in Camp 1W, funded by Community Partners International and operated by local partner Green Hill, serves Bangladesh host communities and Rohingya refugees and offers a wide range of primary health care through facility-based and outreach services. These include general outpatient care, disease prevention and care, prenatal and postnatal care, safe birth referrals, family planning, gender-based violence prevention and care, a general pharmacy and a basic laboratory. In April, a new mental health and psychosocial support service was launched at the Health Post.
“Since we opened, we have seen all kinds of patients, from adult males to adolescent females, children and people with disabilities,” explains Rahima. “The most common issues that we help people with are depression, anxiety, stress, apathy, low moods and psychotic disorders. I have also seen some patients suffering with trauma.”
“Adult males are often the most challenging to treat,” Rahima reveals. ”They don’t want to open up and talk about their problems. They feel really shy at first. During those times, I try to convince them ‘Please think of me as a helper. I am here to help you.’ Gradually they open up.”
“Many of the women who visit have experienced domestic violence,” Rahima confirms “They come here with depression and anxiety from the violence they face. In adolescent girls, it’s different,” she continues. “Mostly they struggle to cope with the changes they are experiencing. Before menstruation starts, they usually roam freely with other children. But when they start menstruating, there are suddenly so many restrictions. They can’t go outside on their own, they have to wear hijab and and cover themselves up. They often face teasing during this time. So overall, they experience huge mental pressure.”
Rahima has many ideas for additional ways that she can support her patients. “I believe that happiness comes from within. I want to arrange group therapy sessions for my patients according to their age group where there will be fun activities for them to do. I wish to create an environment where patients will feel safe and comfortable so that they will be eager to come back again. A place where they don't feel alone. This service is very new here, but I am hopeful that we will be able to give these patients such an environment.”