Healing Through Resilience: A Journey of Transformation and Hope through Mental Health and Psychosocial Support
10 October 2023
In the heart of a small town nestled in the Ayeyarwady Region of Myanmar, a story of resilience, healing, and transformation has been unfolding.
Meet Zin Mar***, a remarkable young woman who found her path from darkness to light, from pain to purpose, through the power of mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services.
While there is a lack of studies on mental health prevalence in Myanmar, estimates of high levels of MHPSS needs have been verified in studies on the mental health of Myanmar nationals living as refugees in neighboring countries. Further evidence can be found in the 2015 Global Burden of Disease Study, which reports that depressive and anxiety disorders are among the top 10 health problems that cause the most disability in Myanmar. A recent study of Counseling Corner Myanmar conducted in 2022 found that 1 in 4 individuals are experiencing moderately severe to severe depression, especially among young people under 25 years old, and a significantly higher level of depression in one of the heavy fighting states in Myanmar.
Women and girls are known to be at increased vulnerability due to conflict and displacement, more exposed to risks of gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, and harmful coping mechanisms, all of which could negatively impact their mental health and psychosocial well-being.
Born in a small town in Ayeyarwaddy region, Zin Mar was the middle child of three siblings, raised by her grandparents from the age of two. The label of "the Saturday-born misfortune bearer" is fueled by stories that her father's behavior changed negatively when her mother became pregnant with her. These early perceptions weighed heavily on her, leading her to believe she was not meant to exist.
A dark shadow hung over her young life was further intensified when she was abused by someone she trusted. The pain was kept locked within her, festering over the years.
"I became a child who barely smiled or laughed and was considered problematic for being ill-mannered and running away from home at night," Zin Mar recalled.
As she grew older, the abuse was repeated, planting deep guilt and shame within her. The belief was that she would be blamed, discriminated and repelled if she spoke up. The trauma haunted her days and nights, manifesting as nightmares, flashbacks, and even blackouts.
She tried to balance her life between surviving the trauma, shouldering family responsibilities, and pursuing education. She participated in community support service, and it offered moments of solace. But when she heard about gender-based violence cases and abuses, it triggered her into self-harm, alcohol addiction, and thoughts of suicide.
Zin Mar took a pivotal turn when she connected with MHPSS Online Platform, supported by UNFPA. She said, “Through professional counseling and support, I found a way to coexist with my trauma. The nightmares and flashbacks gradually faded, replaced by a sense of safety and hope”.
Zin Mar has changed into a person of self-acceptance and self-appreciation. "Because of this experience and support, I felt alive again. I realized what I wanted in life, my dreams, and the things I love. Now I have become a person blessed with self-acceptance and self-appreciation – capable of helping other people," she shared with a renewed sense of purpose.
Her gratitude spotlights the impact of the UNFPA’s Mental Health and Psychosocial Support program, "This MHPSS Online Platform is important for people in pain mentally. Therefore, I sincerely wish that MHPSS services can be scaled up much further to ensure helping people in need."
MHPSS services mainly rely on humanitarian organizations, while psychiatric services have become more challenging due to the current political crisis. Even among humanitarian actors, they have limited staff trained in MHPSS; further technical support is required to ensure the quality of care by the humanitarian actors delivering MHPSS services.
Adib Asrori, UNFPA MHPSS Programme Specialist said, “In order to respond to the increasing demand for such support in a timely manner, UNFPA Myanmar established the MHPSS Roster Team in May 2020 to provide capacity-building and self-care/staff care support to its partners by providing training as well as regular mentoring and supervision. We also developed a ‘Model of Stepped Care,’ ensuring interventions are delivered to meet the clients' varying needs while adhering to the do no harm principles.” To continue with capacity-building efforts and ongoing mentoring and supervision, especially at the field level, UNFPA initiated MHPSS peer support networks (PSN) in Rakhine, Kachin, Southern Shan, Northern Shan, Kayin, and Kayah.
Mr. Asrori continued, “With the increasing need for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support, UNFPA has created the MHPSS online platform to connect those who need MHPSS services and Mental Health Professionals in May 2021.” As a result, from the establishment of this platform in May 2021 until August 2023, UNFPA provided 612 sessions for more than 350 clients across Myanmar.
Zin Mar’s journey serves as a beacon of hope, illustrating the transformation that arises from the integration of mental health and psychosocial support with lifesaving services, sexual and reproductive health, and gender-based violence services for women and girls in Myanmar. Through her resilience and the support of the UN in Myanmar and partner organizations, her story inspires countless others to find healing, reclaim their lives, and nurture a brighter future.
***Name and personal information in the story have been changed to protect the individual's identity.