Trauma and Mental Health for Youth

At the forefront of YouthPower's Learning Agenda is the role of trauma healing and psychological approaches in youth programming.  While practitioners have long recognized traumatic impacts faced by youth in conflict and violence, cultural norms around mental health as well as accessibility of mental health practitioners vary widely between contexts.  These resources provide background and data for trauma healing programming, as well as the importance of incorporating mental health into a holistic understanding of youth assets and agency.  

Reducing Crime and Violence: Experimental Evidence from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Liberia

We show that a number of “noncognitive” skills and preferences, including patience and identity, are malleable in adults, and that investments in them reduce crime and violence. We recruited criminally-engaged [young] men aged 18 to 35 and randomized half to eight weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy designed to foster self-regulation, patience, and a noncriminal identity and lifestyle. We also randomized $200 grants. Cash alone and therapy alone initially reduced crime and violence, but effects dissipated over time. When cash followed therapy, crime and violence decreased dramatically for at least a year. We hypothesize that cash reinforced therapy’s impacts by prolonging learning-by-doing, lifestyle changes, and self-investment.

A Public Health Approach to Address the Mental Health Burden of Youth in Situations of Political Violence and Humanitarian Emergencies

This paper describes how socio-ecological theory and a syndemic health systems and public health approach may help address the plight of youth in situations of political violence and humanitarian emergencies. We describe the treatment gap caused by discrepancies in epidemiological prevalence rates, individual and family needs, and available human and material resources. We propose four strategies to develop a participatory public health approach for these youth, based on principles of equity, feasibility, and a balance between prevention and treatment. The first strategy uses ecological and transgenerational resilience as a theoretical framework to facilitate a systems approach to the plight of youth and families. This theoretical base helps to engage health care professionals in a multisectoral analysis and a collaborative public health strategy. The second strategy is to translate pre-program assessment into mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) priorities. Defining priorities helps to develop programs and policies that align with preventive and curative interventions in multiple tiers of the public health system. The third is a realistic budgetary framework as a condition for the development of sustainable institutional capacity including a monitoring system. The fourth strategy is to direct research to address the knowledge gap about effective practices for youth mental health in humanitarian settings.

In War Zones and Refugee Camps, Researchers are Putting Resilience Interventions to the Test

Despite the cacophony of definitions, most studies of resilience interventions in children ask one of two questions: Does a program promote existing mental health by helping children cope with war and displacement? Or does it prevent mental health complications for which children are now at higher risk? Outcomes are mixed for the few resilience programs that scientists have evaluated. The factors that support mental health and resilience in one situation may be useless or even harmful in another.  This Science article tracks a Mercy Corps project in Jordan that uses hair samples to test stress levels amongst young Syrians and Jordanians pre- and post-intervention.  Although the results are "not perfect," results suggest that scientific testing of humanitarian programs under trying circumstances is possible.