Mental health issues are not something that immediately comes to mind when you think of leprosy or lymphatic filariasis (LF). It is only right that we concern ourselves with the physical effects of the condition first and foremost, but the social and financial effects are immense too and contribute significantly to the wellbeing of people affected.
At Lepra, we believe good mental health is critical for people affected by leprosy or LF, we believe in whole-person care, and we believe it’s essential that mental wellbeing support is provided together with physical health care.
One in two people who receive a diagnosis of leprosy or LF will also be affected by mental health problems. Mental health problems are especially high among people who develop disabilities as a result of their disease. This includes severe depression and anxiety and low self-esteem.
We have worked with leprosy for nearly one hundred years; time and time again we have observed how people’s lives change when they are diagnosed, or even suspect they are affected, with leprosy. They can be keenly aware of very real prejudice and discrimination, scared of potential disability or what their friends, family, and neighbours will think. It is also the same for people affected by LF.
Add in concerns over education, 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.
Read Building the case for the integration of Mental Health services in leprosy and lymphatic filariasis programmes.
We work to support the whole person, from before, during and after the process of confirming their diagnosis. Our programmes are specifically designed to establish and work with self-care groups and to improve quality of life and health outcomes for the people marginalised by leprosy and lymphatic filariasis.
Mental Motivators is a 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 provide an opportunity to learn basic counselling skills including empathy, listening and the health systems available.
Restoring Forgotten People’s Lives was a five-year project aimed at establishing an effective and integrated approach to the care and support of people living with leprosy and LF and at tackling prejudice in the general population in Bihar State, India.