RETHINKING MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING INTERVENTIONS IN DISASTER AND CONFLICT AFFECTED COMMUNITIES: CASE STUDIES FROM SRI LANKA, SUDAN AND MALAWI

The thesis findings and conclusions point to the need for collaboration with disaster, conflict and unplanned development affected communities to retrieve their knowledge systems to improve their mental health and wellbeing.
These countries were selected based on their geographical locations, nature of the disaster, conflict or development problem and most importantly access to communities through Disaster and Development Centre’s (DDC) research work with United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Green Movement of Sri Lanka (GMSL). This thesis examines the traditional knowledge and capabilities that disaster, conflict and unplanned development affected communities utilise to deal with uncertainties and dangers inherent in their lives. Although there are evident levels of mental health and wellbeing related issues that are visible to the outside view of a community, the inside view is that there are traditional knowledge systems, religions, cultures, attitudes and values that address uncertainty and dangers in a sophisticated though pragmatic manner. The findings of the study indicate that most disaster, development and conflict-affected communities are positively dealing with uncertainties and dangers in life without outside ‘expert’ help. At other times they take the form of a continuous reign of suffering like the failed development, disaster reduction and conflict mitigation strategies witnessed in Sri Lanka. Along with the costs of murder, rape, torture, and other forms of human malice, a deeper understanding of mental health and wellbeing in adversity is little understood. Even when suffering is not present in such striking forms, there can be slow deterioration of communities through policies that severely disrupt the lives of people, such as experienced by refugees in Malawi. However, disaster and development experts, psychologists, psychiatrists and sociologists are occupied in documenting, describing, analysing and diagnosing risks, vulnerabilities, coping strategies, and post-traumatic stress. The “lived experiences” of mental health and wellbeing for individuals amongst these communities are then further examined through their personal stories.

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