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Reference : V-P-AM-E-00521
Date : 28/09/2021
Country/Region : ARMENIA
Caption : Tavush Marz, Aygepar village. Child cutting couloured papers during craft time.
Photographer : HAKOBYAN, Gohar
Confidentiality level : public
Publication restrictions : publication without restrictions
Copyright : ICRC
Description : ICRC's website, article, 22.11.2021
"For the past 30 years, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has taken a heavy toll on people’s mental health, especially among those living along the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
"We live in an environment of constant risks," says a schoolteacher from Aygepar. "I would often find bullets on our balcony, and when there was shooting, I would stuff cotton in my daughter's ears so that she didn't hear it. If shooting took place during school hours, we would take the children to an underground shelter and play games and music for them."
People have learned to live with the situation, no longer even wondering whether it's normal. "Constant fear has become the norm for us," says a teacher from Chinari. This has led to a growing prevalence of mental health problems, which have been exacerbated by unawareness, misperception and stigma. "There's also a lack of trust in psychological services – most of which are only available in the capital Yerevan anyway," explains Loussine Mkrttchian, an ICRC psychologist. Mental health issues soared last year following the surge in violence that affected not only people living in border communities but also in other parts of Armenia. "The short-term impact was high levels of distress and strong fears among the affected population," says Sofia Gimenez Molinero, an ICRC mental health and psychosocial support delegate in Armenia. "Since the fighting escalated last year, we've been struggling to adapt to the situation we find ourselves in," says a teacher from Chinari.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict escalation deprived large numbers of people of their belongings, but also of their loved ones – many of whom are missing or have been detained. And thousands of displaced people came to Armenia. "I worked with a lot of displaced families," says a psychologist in the southern Armenian town of Kapan.
People are exhibiting hopelessness, indifference, loneliness and even aggression, with cases of domestic violence in the community on the rise. Yet there are no services available locally that people can turn to for help with their mental health problems.
"Villagers here used to breed cattle but had to sell them all because the pastures are mined or pose other risks," says a teacher from the border community of Davit Bek. "They can't grow crops, so they sold their farm
equipment. Seven families have already left the village because of this." Other families have moved owing to rising anxiety among their children, some of whom started stuttering, sleeping poorly or being easily startled.
The situation seems more stable now, yet mental health issues haven't gone away – and more and more people are recognizing the need to address them. "There's been a shift," says Loussine, an ICRC psychologist.
The ICRC tackles mental health and psychosocial issues in Armenia through two projects: Help the Helpers and Victims of Violence. The Help the Helpers project trains staff members at the Republican Psychological-Pedagogical Center (RPPC), and they in turn train schoolteachers in the border communities. Over the course of several sessions, the teachers learn how to draw on both personal and external resources to better cope with conflict-related stressors. This way they can support their students and the community at large. "The beauty and power of the Help the Helpers approach is that it takes the participants very discreetly from where they are and helps them to move forward with gradual but tangible changes in their self-confidence and way of thinking," explains Loussine.
For those who participated in the ICRC-led sessions, the whole experience turned out to be a journey of acceptance and transformation. That said, the struggle to break the stigma in conflict-affected communities in the Syunik and Tavush regions wears on. "At first teachers would laugh about difficult situations. When talking about children who were caught in shelling or accidentally entered a mined field, for example, they would make jokes," says a psychologist from the RPPC. "That was such an inappropriate response to those situations, but it was their way of coping. After a few meetings, the teachers began to express their emotions differently when discussing the same scenarios. They would become emotional, as more appropriate mechanisms kicked in."”
Original material : digital
Resolution : 5947x3965
Orientation : landscape
Colour/B&W : colour