©Olivier Papegnies

Nepal: Two years and four months after Nepal’s earthquake, mental health issues persist

In 2015, Nepal was hit by its worst earthquake since 1934. Over 9,000 people died and half a million homes were destroyed. Today, Doctors of the World is still working there to help rebuild communities shattered by the earthquake. In 2017, Nepal was affected by floods and landslides triggered by heavy rains. There are concerns about further mental health issues of residents caused by repeated natural disasters, thus consistent and sufficient mental care is required.

When the earthquake hit in April 2015, we provided emergency medical assistance. Over 50 people were dispatched to the region, along with 15 tonnes of essential supplies and medicines. In the following days and weeks, we provided emergency care and helped battle outbreaks of typhoid and shigella.

Once the emergency phase was over, our teams got to work rebuilding Sindhupalchok’s healthcare infrastructure – 61 out of 79 health facilities had been destroyed and another 14 badly damaged. We have worked with local communities to set up new health facilities, provide community healthcare, and rebuild wells to provide clean water.

©Olivier Papegnies

However, even though two years have now passed since the earthquake, many of Sindhupalchok’s families are still struggling with its psychological impacts. Residents say mental health issues and drinking are on the rise, partly as many people are still unable to rebuild their houses and start anew.

“Two years after the earthquake, people are still struggling with reconstruction of houses…the other main challenges are economic breakdown and psychosocial issues. Alcohol consumption has also increased in the community,” says Chitra Kumari Shrestha, one of the community leaders we’ve worked with.Mental health support is just one reason why we will keep working in Sindhupalchok for at least another year.

Even before the earthquake, there was no real mental health support in Sindhupalchok. There was some limited care for psychotic patients, but no counselling or a referral system that enabled people to get the help they needed. One recent study found that 90% of people with a mental illness in Nepal have no access to treatment.

At the Kalika health post in Sindhupalchok, we recently helped an elderly woman who’d been shunned by her neighbours because she was displaying symptoms of schizophrenia. We arranged for her to travel to Nepal’s capital Kathmandu with her adult son for diagnosis and treatment.

This is just one example of the work that we continue to do in Nepal, long after the earthquake has dropped out of the headlines.

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