Robin Hammond’s book on mental illness in Africa, published by MIPJ partner, FotoEvidence.

Robin Hammond’s “Condemned”

Award-winning photojournalist Robin Hammond Explores Mental Illness in Africa

One of the first projects I want to promote from MIPJ 2014 is that of photojurnalist Robin Hammond, whose work on mental illness in Africa has won—and truly deservingly—multiple venerated international awards, including the book published by MIPJ partner FotoEvidence, and which I featured in one of my HuffPost pieces.

Because of his work and experiences having had such a profound effect on him as both a photographer and as a human being, Hammond is trying to bring as much attention to this issue as possible—inclusive of promoting a petition to make this issue at the forefront of UN efforts, and also asking people to sponsor copies of his book being sent to influential parties internationally, who have some capacity to determine where money is spent, and where attention can be focused when it comes to one of the world’s most vulnerable populations.

The importance of this issue is often missed in international action; without attention to the psycho-social and mental health issues of vulnerable populations, including those during and post-conflict or crisis, any aid, recovery and development efforts have a much lower chance of working.

The reason: those who are suffering whatever psychological issues or trauma cannot actively participate in recovery efforts. And it is logical that those exposed to stressors common among those in the developing world, or among vulnerable, failing or failed states, would inherently be dealing with some kinds of psychological factors.

Also deeply important: those suffering psychological trauma and mental illness are often castigated, shunned, and seen as abominations or embarrassments. Their treatment is often substandard, if not inordinately cruel. They are, as Robin Hammond’s book suggests, condemned—and seen as less than human.

The response: jails, chains, physical and psychological abuse and even exorcism are common in the developing world. As is ignoring mentally ill men, women, and children entirely.

Among those who are interested in monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of aid, recovery, and development efforts, including efficacy of programs and accountability when it comes to funds being allocated and spent, this is one of the first questions that should be asked:

Have any effective, scientific impact assessments been done in terms of the psycho-social/mental health of a vulnerable community been done? And if not, why?

There are multiple scientific instruments that can be utilized to do this work, known among emergency and public health professionals internationally, which can make such assessments, are inexpensive, and can be done in a short period of time.

And no, this does not include a head count of those to be served as quantitative data.

If this is NOT done, then any projections about the use, efficacy, and short- or long-term effects of any intervention cannot potentially be seen as complete, or taking all necessary considerations into account. It can also be seen as negligent.

For this reason, mental health issues among these communities should be seen as one of the first pillars of any humanitarian, human security, or corrective action—including in emergency efforts.

Human resilience—if not decency, and efficacy of efforts—requires it.

Hammond’s work, including interview, multimedia of his work, links, and photos may be found here, via the multimedia edition of MIPJ 2014. The digital flipmag edition of MIPJ 2014, including Hammond’s work, may be found here, available without paywall until December 31, 2014.

Robin Hammond’s website.

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