Mental health issues are not something that immediately come to mind when you think of leprosy or lymphatic filariasis (LF). Many people may see the physical effects of the disease first, without considering how they affect someone with these diseases.
And yet, 50% of people who receive a diagnosis of either are also affected by a mental health problem, before, during and after the process of confirming their illness. These can include depression, anxiety and self-esteem or body related disorders. These can also be hidden away, just as their physical symptoms may be.
Indeed, the risk factors for mental health problems are much higher for someone who is or suspects that they may be affected by leprosy or LF.
They can be keenly aware of very real prejudice and discrimination, scared of potential disability or what their friends, family and neighbours will think.
Add in concerns over educational, employment, residential or even relationship consequences and it is easy to see why the numbers of people in this situation also suffering from a mental health problem are so high.
This can be worse in places like Bangladesh, where provision for mental health support after a diagnosis can be harder to come by locally. With no-one to talk to about their condition or fears, this can lead to people feeling isolated, taking less interest in self-care, exacerbating the physical symptoms and even developing suicidal thoughts.
Mental Motivators is a new project aiming to improve mental health provision as part of our existing self-care groups. As well as supporting people to look after their physical symptoms, we are giving the opportunity to learn basic counselling skills including empathy, listening and the health systems available.
These Mental Motivators can then support people who have indicated they would like someone to talk to and actively find group members who are becoming withdrawn, quiet or upset, all tell-tale signs that a mental health issue may also be part of their condition.
While helping people with their worries and concerns about their diagnosis or symptoms, the Mental Motivators can signpost to appropriate education and employment opportunities, as well as any governmental support that they may be entitled to but not receiving.
Mental Motivators are supported by local medical professionals who can step in where an individual requires more specialist help. Lepra also support our volunteers and staff to ensure that their own well-being is being protected and helping them to their own mental health.
By becoming a Mental Motivator, people improve their prospects while helping others to improve theirs. This can give them valuable experience they can use in their day to day lives or to help them secure employment.
Mental Motivators begins in June we are very excited to update you in the coming months with how this important project is improving the lives of people affected by leprosy, LF and mental health conditions in Bangladesh.