What problem are you trying to solve?
Mental health factors account for nearly one-third of the global total of ‘years lived with disability’. Yet fewer than 25 percent of people living with mental health problems in low- and middle-income countries currently receive treatment. For children living with the effects of armed conflict the figure is even lower. This is not only due to the low availability of services, but also the reduced opportunity to access those few services. The barriers to access are many: lack of awareness of service availability; reduced recognition of mental health problems; stigmatization; and the widespread perception that treatment is ineffective. These barriers are particularly significant for children who cannot seek services of their own accord. Mental health screening mechanisms are typically offered within health systems that many people can or do not access. And these mechanisms are expensive – and therefore less effective in low-resource settings.
What is your solution to this problem?
The Community Case Detection Tool allows people without a professional health background to identify children at risk of severe emotional distress or mental illness. Rather than using checklists and symptom descriptions, the tool draws on people’s skill to quickly recognize patterns of behaviour. Trusted members of the community are trained to use the diagnostic tool – and thereby direct children identified as in need of support to specialized care. The tool consists of a single page with an illustrated narrative about a child experiencing mental distress – adapted in each case to the specific context in which it is used. When a child is identified as in need of support, the community member approaches the child’s parents or caregivers to encourage and support them to seek help. If successfully piloted, the tool will be made available to the wider humanitarian sector and is expected to be incorporated in WHO guidelines.
What is your latest update on your innovation?
The tool has been developed and contextualized in both Sri Lanka and the occupied Palestinian territories over the past year, in close collaboration with partner organisations and local communities. It is currently being pilot-tested in War Child mental health projects in both settings and assessed for effectiveness by our R&D department. Stage one results of this assessment will show us how accurate the tool is in identifying children at risk. The next step is to evaluate whether children identified with the tool actually access mental health services. If the tool is eventually found to bring about increased uptake of mental health services it will be made available to the wider sector. We ultimately expect the tool to be incorporated by the WHO in their guidelines for mental health care, as has been done with the adult version of the tool. Sector research leads us to expect a 50 percent increase in the number of children accessing services as a result of the tool.