Creating a New Narrative of Mental Health
Right now, there are approximately 68.5 million people displaced around the world, including over 10 million Syrians dislocated by war. Displaced populations face a higher risk of experiencing mental health challenges, while also dealing with the stigma associated with both discussing mental health illness and seeking care. Additionally, less than 1% of foreign assistance is allocated to mental health assistance. This has left many refugees with few available resources to address the crippling, emotional and psychological burdens associated with forced displacement, trauma and violence.
The Field Guide for Barefoot Psychologists is an educational and self-care tool written for individuals (18+) forcibly displaced, and for those working with them. Grounded in the belief that science is a right and self-awareness is an asset, the Guide unpacks the biological and psychological processes associated with the experience of forced displacement, including issues such as fear, anxiety, stress, trauma, guilt, shame, and hopelessness. It also specifically explores positive assets for cultivating resilience, including the science of neuroplasticity, belonging, and post-traumatic growth.
Teaching Science Through Stories
Importantly, the science covered in the Field Guide is introduced through storytelling. The pilot version of the Guide follows the narrative of two Syrian siblings living through conflict and migration and uses vignettes of their lives to delve into otherwise abstract scientific concepts. Overall, the Field Guide walks users through an educational and practical process that includes psychoeducation, self-assessment, and replicable self-care exercises to increase resilience and capacity to address mental health challenges at an individual and community level. This is the first time a large body of neuroscience, cognitive science, and clinical information about trauma and stress has been translated into Arabic.
The Guide aims to normalize many of the psychological experiences associated with forced migration and conflict, framing issues such as anger, depression, and emotion dysregulation as natural, common responses of the brain and the body to abnormal life events.
The Field Guide is being developed in both print and mobile application formats and is currently being piloted in the Za’atri Refugee camp in Jordan. Additionally, in Spring 2019, Beyond Conflict began a semi-randomized control trial (RCT) to test the effectiveness of the Field Guide in reducing post-traumatic stress symptoms. The RCT, in partnership with the New School for Social Research, the University of California – Berkeley, and Questscope, is one of the largest neurophysiology studies ever conducted in a post-conflict setting.
Beyond Conflict seeks to transform the Field Guide into a world-class tool with proven impact on refugee and migrant mental health in communities affected by the Syrian Refugee Crisis, and with imminent relevance for other conflict and post-conflict contexts, including migrants and immigrant communities in the United States and beyond.
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