BasicNeeds Pakistan: Supporting mental health in under-resourced communities during the COVID-19 pandemic

BasicNeeds Pakistan: Supporting mental health in under-resourced communities during the COVID-19 pandemic

Dr Fizza Yasmeen is the Chief Executive Officer BasicNeeds Pakistan, a nonprofit, non-governmental organisation working to improve the lives of people living with mental health conditions and/or epilepsy in Pakistan. In this post, Dr Yasmeen describes challenges in supporting rural and under-resourced communities in Pakistan and adaptations to service delivery in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Key messages Innovations
Shift to remote-mental health interventions as much as possible Online and phone counselling and consultation                           
Activities for economic empowerment are crucial to mental health in under-resourced communities Videos on social media using role-play to raise awareness about COVID-19 and its impact on mental health
Rural and under-resourced communities need screening, testing and PPE for health care workers to continue much needed support during this time Creation of a rapid mental health response team “Alone Together” providing psychological support in communities                                                 

Human connection is now more important than ever. With COVID-19 heightening stress, anxiety and isolation, our teams aim to support those struggling with mental health conditions by connecting them to the right support. With 60 Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) instructors, BasicNeeds Pakistan has trained 3610 community members as ‘Mental Health First Aiders’ in the regions of Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi. We are joining the national effort to fight COVID-19 by raising awareness about mental health in rural and under-resourced communities.

Infrastructure is fragmented in these communities with limited internet access. Houses are usually congested with potentially ten people living in one to two rooms. Many have lost their jobs and livelihoods and cannot afford medication. We anticipate a spike in mental health problems. Additionally, there are no screening and testing facilities in these communities, and people cannot afford to go to the hospital at their own expense. 

Our six vocational training centres for women’s economic empowerment have closed due to lockdown, and this has created great financial loss and overwhelming anxiety among the newly trained entrepreneurs. The centres are now partially open, and some women are sewing protective masks for their communities that are either donated or sold at a low price. To abide by physical distancing guidelines, we have limited the number of people allowed in the centre to five at a time. Upon entering, they have their temperature screened and are given a mask and sanitizing hand gel. There is also an instructor present who provides information about infection prevention and the importance of physical distancing, hand-washing and hygiene.

  • “When I first heard about coronavirus and lockdown, I thought I would stop going to the centre but continue taking orders at home. I assumed things wouldn’t be that bad. Then, suddenly everything went to a standstill. I was devastated. My invisible enemy emerged. I started having headaches and wasn’t able to sleep at night. My dreams were shattered. I was feeling helpless and worthless. My earnings were everything to me. It was my pride. I earned respect in my family. Now everything seemed to be sabotaged. My family was in a severe financial crisis. My sewing work stopped, but my connection and link with my fellow women never stopped. When they realized that I was going into depression, they asked me to contact my counsellor who was also my sewing instructor. She supported me a lot.” - Samreen, entrepreneur in Karachi