Psychologist, Psychotherapist – Doctors of the World Greece
In Greece, mental health services and other related support structures have undergone significant changes due to budget cuts over the last ten years. These cuts in public funding have led to many services becoming underfunded, while many non-profit community mental health centres for children and adolescents, psychosocial rehabilitation units and highly specialised institutions have been suspended. At the same time, the number of abused or neglected children admitted for protection to pediatric hospitals increased dramatically.
In the current situation, the mental health impacts of pandemic COVID-19 and the subsequent bans and restrictions are expected to affect the most vulnerable. It is also expected that children and adolescents will be greatly affected, due to their long-term abstinence from face-to-face education. Typically, large-scale catastrophic events are accompanied by increases in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, sleep disorders, various types of other mental and behavioural disorders, domestic violence and child abuse.
In this challenging context, Doctors of the World through the Open Minds 21 program promotes mental health and wellbeing in the community and aims to address the mental health problems of vulnerable populations, both migrants and refugees and nationals living in poverty, by providing them with access to mental and social support and ensuring that they can access their basic human rights.
Moreover, as we try to come out of our shell to understand the “new reality”, we are eager to reunite and embrace our families, return to our workplaces and reconnect with friends in social settings. However, this may not be possible for many asylum seekers and refugees. Most lack their families and wider social networks. In addition, asylum seekers find themselves inactive as they are unable to pursue higher education or manage to work and may face loneliness – or worse, direct discrimination in their new communities. This compromises their aspirations and jeopardises their sense of purpose, identity and social connections with long-term implications for their mental health.
The case of J., an adult male of Cameroonian origin, who in the last year has experienced an increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety due to the pandemic response measures. Organisations as well as a church where he volunteered his services have been forced to either suspend their services or operate with only the most essential staff. In addition, the organization where he provided the Greek language courses he was attending was forced to offer the delivery of the courses only online. Due to the lack of a stable living environment, he did not always have access to the internet and contact with his classmates was intermittent. All these changes resulted in an intensified sense of loneliness and further isolation. Thus, his interest in following other online activities had decreased as he lacked what he missed most, human contact and a practical sense of contribution and productivity. Through the weekly sessions of the Open Minds 21 programme, in a climate of safety and acceptance, he manages to create a relationship that is both comforting and compassionate towards himself.
It is true that we are at a complex crossroads in the world. We are still going through difficult times after the outbreak of the coronavirus and it is likely that the future will be even more challenging. In these unprecedented times, there is a good opportunity to think about what kind of society we want to shape and to adopt an empathetic approach in trying to understand the lives of asylum seekers, refugees in our communities, our vulnerable fellow citizens, asking “what would it be like if I lost everything and had to start from scratch?”
Betshop.gr supports Doctors of the World, ensuring the operational and financial support of the OPEN MINDS program, for the continued provision of mental health services in the community by mental health professionals, in a framework of dignity and acceptance for all people without discrimination. OPEN MINDS aims to protect mental health and treat psychiatric disorders of people that belong to vulnerable social groups. The partnership continues for a 2nd consecutive year with the aim of informing and educating the population.
For more information on the Open Minds 21 programme, please see https://openmindsproject.gr