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Why Mental Health?

Mental health training in Cambodia
Mental health training in Cambodia

Mental health is under-resourced and misunderstood

Mental health is important for everyone’s overall well-being, just like physical health. Anyone can have challenges with their mental health due to stress, illness, trauma, or other causes. Thankfully, these issues can often be helped with simple interventions like counseling.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a state of mental well-being that allows people to cope with life’s challenges, use their abilities, learn and work effectively, and contribute to their community. It is essential for personal, community, and socio-economic development and is a basic human right.

However, mental health is often under-resourced and misunderstood, with limited access to mental health care and professionals. Stigma and lack of understanding can prevent people from seeking help for common conditions like anxiety, depression, and stress. Often, places of worship may be the only available resource for counseling and guidance, but leaders at these institutions may not know how to help or where to refer individuals for further assistance.

Training makes a difference

Understanding People, mental health, and Trauma seminars equip informal service providers, such as  church leaders, social workers, health care workers, police, and others with basic mental health and counseling skills. Trining is also appropriate for formal service providers, such as healthcare workers. All of these service provider groups are likely to see people who need some level of mental health care response.

WHO recommends[1] community-based mental health care provided through a network of interrelated services:

  • Mental health services that are integrated in general health care, typically in general hospitals and through task-sharing with non-specialist care providers in primary health care;
  • Community mental health services that may involve community mental health centers and teams, psychosocial rehabilitation, peer support services and supported living services; and
  • Services that deliver mental health care in social services and non-health settings, such as child protection, school health services, and prisons.

Understanding People, mental health, and Trauma addresses these main areas: 

Making care accessible
Training for informal service providers (church leaders, social workers, etc.) creates an important layer of care and services within the community. We also train formal providers (such as healthcare workers) and encourage cooperation between these groups. These coincide with the World Health Organization’s recommended Optimal Mix for Mental Health Services and influence and strengthen national mental health policy and services.

Lower cost
Trained informal service providers make care available to more people with a wide range of problems, and at a lower cost. Since most people can be helped with counseling, informal providers can reduce the strain on higher levels of care. They can also serve as bridges to the community for those returning after treatment and/or long-term care.

Reducing stigma
Education about common and severe mental disorders, and conditions associated with mental disorders or spiritual distress, trauma, and grief increases understanding and reduces fear and makes the community more livable for all.

Protecting Children
Children are particularly vulnerable to abuse and suffer disproportionately from poverty and conflict. Parents, teachers, children, and caregivers often lack ways to recognize and prevent abuse. All participants learn about preventing abuse of children and ways to teach awareness and prevention to children.

Equipping the church

We love to train church leaders, because they are often the first ones called in a crisis. Think about the kinds of situations pastors respond to – death or illness in the family, marriage problems, behavior issues with children, natural disasters, aging parents – all complex issues with implications for mental health.

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Dr. Lyn Westman

About the Author

The program was developed by Dr. Lyn Westman, who has served as Mental Health Program Senior Consultant for both Mercy Ships and Tributaries International. Lyn is a psychologist who designs and implements mental health and trauma healing training programs globally, training formal and informal care providers from a holistic perspective. She has worked internationally since 1980.

[1] WHO, Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2030, available at