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Championing mental health is key to ending slavery

August 29, 2017

Mental health support is one of the biggest gaps in the global response to modern slavery. The sector has little understanding of slavery’s lasting psychological impact on individuals and their communities, and how best to help survivors’ emotional recovery.

To help bridge this gap, the Freedom Fund’s South-East Nepal Hotspot recently launched its first mental health intervention, Bharosa, for communities living in bonded labour.

Working in partnership with the University of York and the Centre for Mental Health and Counselling Nepal (CMC), the Bharosa intervention aims to directly address the mental health and psychosocial needs of Harwa-Charuwa agricultural bonded labourers in Nepal. The name Bharosa comes from a Nepali word referring to how people rely upon and support one another.

Unlike the few existing mental health support programs around the world that serve survivors of slavery, the Bharosa intervention targets communities who are still in bonded labour, alongside a range of strategies working towards their liberation. Its purpose is to equip communities with additional tools to help break the cycle of intergenerational bondage. Improving social relationships, and in turn, mental well-being, can build the resilience, confidence and strength needed for communities to claim their rights and live a future free from slavery.

Crucially, the Bharosa intervention is designed for contexts with limited mental health resources.  We are piloting the intervention with two Freedom Fund partner organisations: Janachetana Dalit Sangam (JDS) and Dalit Samrakshyan Aviyan Manch (DSAM). The CMC trained community facilitators from the two partner organisations to lead discussion and activities on psychosocial awareness and support with their existing community groups using the Bharosa training manual.

“The community facilitators were really engaged in the training discussion on mental health and psychosocial problems,” said Dr Pashupati Mahat from CMC. “They were able to relate the examples from the case studies on issues such as depression, anxiety and alcohol dependency to their own experience working with the Harwa-Charuwa communities”. 

The intervention builds upon the findings and recommendations from a clinical assessment undertaken by the Freedom Fund in 2016 which found that 61% of Harwa-Charuwa reported suffering from clinically significant symptoms of depression and 46% from suicidal ideation, primarily arising from their situation of bonded labour. 

“I really appreciated the exercise on the importance of listening and building trust,” recalled a community facilitator who took part in the training. “It has helped us to understand how to identify someone with mental health problems and how they can be supported rather than left alone”.

The intervention will run regular training sessions in a total of 41 community groups reaching over 750 bonded labourers. Results from the pilot will be analysed after six months and if successful, rolled out across the hotspot.

Additional resources

Read the Freedom Fund’s Evidence in Practice paper about the mental health needs of Nepali bonded labourers.

Read the full clinical assessment, “Understanding the psychosocial and mental health needs of Haruwa and Charuwa bonded labourers in South-Eastern Nepal”.

Read the critical review and research agenda, “Addressing mental health needs of survivors of modern slavery”.

Find out more about the Freedom Fund’s South-Eastern Nepal Hotspot.

Written by
Pauline Aaron
Senior Program Manager