In a move to revolutionise the way we address the mental health needs of children and youths with disabilities (CYWD’s), Charis Healthcare, a renowned mental health organisation hosted a two-day training on 22nd – 23rd August 2023 in Jos on providing essential care and psychosocial support aimed at equipping media personnel with the necessary tools to promote inclusivity, destigmatize mental health, and foster an environment of acceptance for CYWD in the society and redefine the narrative on mental health care – not just for CYWD but for all.
The training program officially began with an opening at the Charis Healthcare training hall in Jos. Journalists from various media organisations were present, representing an array of platforms such as print, radio, television, and online media.
Henry Ojenya, the project manager of Charis Healthcare, kicked off the training by delivering a keynote address. He emphasised the urgent need for society to address the stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental health and disabilities. Ojenya went on to discuss the importance of the media in shaping public opinion and creating awareness on these issues.
The training addressed a wide range of topics. One of the sessions was facilitated by Charis Healthcare consultant, Benret Ringpon. She introduced strategies for identifying mental health issues in CYWD such as down syndrome, autism,cerebral palsy etc and highlighted the potential long-term consequences of untreated mental health conditions around them. Her presentation shed light on the importance of early intervention and destigmatizing mental health issues in society.The training also included case studies and testimonials from parents and caregivers of CYWD’s.
The second day commenced with a session by Florence Augustine a Psychologist and expert on mental health at Charis Healthcare on framing issues related to mental health and disabilities in the media. She emphasised the significance of accurate representation and steering away from stereotypes that perpetuate stigma.
Participants had a lunch break while networking and sharing their thoughts on the training after which the afternoon sessions focused on practical aspects of journalism, such as ethical reporting, interviewing techniques, and the importance of humanising stories. They actively participated in mock interview exercises and IQ tests, providing them with valuable hands-on experience.
An eye-opening session featured watching documentaries showing people who have faced mental health challenges and disabilities and sharing personal stories to shed light on the struggles faced by those living with these conditions. This served as a reminder of the media’s responsibility to give voice to the voiceless.
It is important to note that in a Charis Healthcare documentary shown at the training, Praise Mwueseter ,Team lead at Charis Healthcare emphasised on how more funding can help the organisation do more : “with proper funding we can prevent exposure to mental health risks,impacting policies, strengthening the community based interventions and outreaches and also establishing safe spaces in broken communities where community members who are experiencing mental health distresses can find support, build resilience and coping mechanisms”.
The documentary also had evidence of how mental health care and providing support is empowering lives and creating change in the society through trauma healing sessions/counsellings, treatment for mental illnesses by the organisation.
One of the facilitators Odinaka Kingsley Obeta, public health practitioner and comms & advocacy lead at Charis Healthcare emphasised the need for self-awareness and establishing boundaries for media personnel to prevent burnout and vicarious trauma.
He encouraged journalists to prioritise mental health news in health columns,emphasising the importance of Including stories of hope that are positive in nature.
Furthermore, he talked about the need to seek to know and pass on facts with a mindset of inclusion for all about mental illnesses , understanding laws that guide the system such as the Nigerian Mental Health Act and knowing that persons with disabilities have a right and there’s a need to protect their rights too.
“Media practitioners should make deliberate decisions to train and update staff on advocating and having good media reports on mental health and as well have bodies such as Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) adopt a strategy to support media personnels on such training,” Obeta told journalists.
He made emphasis on the need for government to include mental health support as a service delivered at Primary Health Care centres in the region, also having resources such as mental health first aid and other basic assistance and support (e.g telemedicine) at the primary level to serve as a preventive healthcare function for those at the grassroots.
Journalists at the training expressed how they’d deliberately include awareness content in their various workplaces that can support and advocate mental health care in the community.
In an interview with a few of the participants, here is what they had to say: “I believe gender based violence Is linked to mental health and being in this training has helped me alot especially in ensuring people going through gender based violence are not suffering from mental illnesses and I’ve had deep insight on how to send good message reports and sensitise people with the right information on mental health care” says Precious Aniyeze, a gender based violence advocate and radio host at Jay 101.9 FM Jos.
“After this training, my responsibility as a blogger is to provide awareness information about where people can easily access mental health care facilities and seek help for people with disabilities” says media influencer and blogger, Ibrahim Kallamu.
The training program came to an end with a closing ceremony, where participants received certificates of completion. Overall, the two-day training program organised by Charis Healthcare and community support initiative with funding from Liliane Fonds and technical support from the Leprosy Mission in Nigeria has been transformative for all the participants.
The impact of this training will have journalists now possess the knowledge and tools to educate the public and combat the existing stigmas surrounding mental health care and psychosocial support for CYWD’s.