Emergency and humanitarian action

Addressing mental health needs in quake-hit Nepal

Agatha Thapa
Photo: WHO/M. Vurens van Es

Before Nepal’s 25 April earthquake, Agatha Thapa was well known for her pioneering work on early-childhood development in the Himalayan country of approximately 30 million. Apart from opening two pre-primary schools, she has devoted time and resources to launching 'Entry Point', Thapa's own pre-preschool program for disadvantaged children aged between one-and-a-half and three years old.

Thapa, 70, now spends six days a week providing psychosocial support to the children of displaced families living in tents in Tundhikhel, a large open space in central Kathmandu.

“Children need their emotions released, especially after the terror of the earthquake,” she says. “We give them chances to express themselves through many different activities.”

At present, the mental health care needs of people of all age groups are acute.

According to Rishav Koirala, WHO’s mental health specialist in Nepal, WHO and Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population have been active in promoting access to culturally appropriate, evidence-based sources of care. “We have devised a screening tool for lower-level paramedics to identify patients with mental illness and we’ve shared a Nepalese version of WHO South-East Asia Regional Office’s Health Advice for Mental Illness,” he said. “We are organizing a ‘training of trainers’ program which will start next month to address mental health care gaps. This will help train doctors to provide a basic, primary level of care or make referrals as and where necessary.”

As these initiatives highlight, ensuring that Nepal’s health system adapts to meet the post-quake needs of the country’s citizens is crucial.

The benefits of informal interventions and sources of support for those traumatized by recent events is clear. From an open tent on Tundhikel’s dusty, sun-baked surface, Thapa reflected on the receptiveness of the kids to the care she is providing: “They love it,” she said. “They have a big playground under the blue sky and they are engaged.”