Doctors Without Borders Providing Mental Health Care to Migrant Children

Medecins Sans Frontieres
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May 16, 2022




“I'm afraid, I don’t like to be in a place like this because my brother, my mom and me were kidnapped for three months,” said eight-year-old Pedro during an activity organized by MSF’s health promotion team. (MSF)

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides mental healthcare to children and adolescents on the move at various points along the migration route in Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.

Many report experiencing or witnessing violence, discrimination, and trauma. Poor physical and mental health is particularly worrying among children and adolescents as it can impact their development and their general wellbeing.

The migration route through central America and Mexico is long and dangerous - those who take it cross rivers, mountainous regions, and swampy terrain. It’s not just adults that risk this dangerous journey, children of all ages are also forced to flee their homes in search of safety or a better life. Some children are with their families - often having left home without much or any explanation - others travel alone. They all face a future of uncertainty.

How Do Children Perceive Migration?

Generally, children don't receive any explanation about the events that happened to them before they left home or along the migration route. People think that because they are young, they don’t understand that something bad has happened, and therefore don’t need an explanation. And because they don’t have the necessary tools to understand and manage the emotions they are feeling, they express those emotions through their behavior.

“Many times, when the children are with me, [they exhibit] some bad behaviors associated to their experiences,” said Esther Huerta, community advisor at the Comprehensive Care Center in Mexico City. “For example, violence. Not because they want to [harm] others, but because that's what they have known, and they don't know any other way to interact.”

MSF staff use play therapy and recreational activities to help children name their emotions, talk about them, redirect them, and manage them. These techniques also help our teams understand the emotional state of a child so that they can then provide appropriate psychological care.

One of the activities is called “How is your heart?" where children name emotions, draw a heart and color it in according to how they have felt that week or that day.

“The emotions that are generally predominant are: ‘anger’ because they are tired of waiting; ‘sadness’ from being away from their country; and ‘fear’ of not knowing what will happen to them,” said Lourdes Ceballos an MSF health promotion supervisor who works in our project in Reynosa, northern Mexico along the US border.

Read the rest at Medecins Sans Frontières

Notice: This content is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.

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