This World Health Day, Action on Poverty reflects on its collaborative work to prioritise mental health in developing countries and issues a call for further support, where poverty and limited resources continue to exacerbate mental health issues.

Action on Poverty has issued a powerful call for increased support for mental health programs in developing countries in recognition of World Health Day 2023. With over 50 years of international development experience, AOP possesses unique insight into the power of grassroots community programs to transform the lives of those living in poverty.

With mental health and poverty so closely interconnected, AOP is proud to engage with local partners in developing nations to improve access to culturally relevant mental health services. As one of Australia’s nearest neighbours, Timor-Leste is a nation that remains acutely affected by mental health issues.

“Timor-Leste is a country with a recent violent history, with many people suffering trauma and displacement as part of the independence struggle. Disrupted education and limited employment opportunities, combined with inadequate access to services makes for poor mental health outcomes. Mental health is not a priority and often remains hidden away,” explains Cameron Marchant, Pacific Program Manager for Action on Poverty.

Currently, Timor-Leste ranks 140th out of 191 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI), with a Gross National Income of only $4,461 per capita. The nation’s HDI rank becomes significantly lower once equality factors are included, framing equality as a critical issue in the region.

“Timor-Leste’s economy is heavily influenced by gender and is markedly unequal, impacting women’s access to the nation’s already limited resources. These inequities become pivotal when considering the economic dimensions of domestic violence. Often women are not in a position to leave abusive relationships,” said Marchant.

In understanding the needs of the nation, AOP has worked extensively with local Timorese NGO PRADET to overcome the underlying social and economic factors contributing to mental health issues. These are issues that disproportionally affect the women of Timor-Leste, making them an important catalyst to drive change in Timorese communities. AOP’s support extends to a socio-economic empowerment program that assists survivors of violence who come through the PRADET Fatin Hakmatek: Safe Rooms. PRADET also works to raise community awareness of human trafficking in its Tau Matan: Counter Trafficking program.

Marchant continues, “by supporting women in these communities and taking into account important cultural nuances around gender equality and family violence, our programming can more effectively improve mental health outcomes.”

The Timor-Leste socio-economic empowerment program aims to assist women who are survivors of domestic violence to build their own businesses and improve their quality of life. Women’s income-generating activities and livelihoods often depend on access to land and resources. The strategy behind this program provides economic independence to give women in violent relationships choices.

“We have witnessed increased household finances giving new life and confidence to the women and children who are now able to participate in more activities at school and in the community. One of the beneficiaries on the program also commented that, for the first time, she can contribute financially to cultural events, which is a source of pride for her. These are incredibly positive outcomes for mental health,” explains Marchant.

Speaking to the impact of PRADET and AOP’s socio-economic empowerment project, Marchant said:

“PRADET designed its project to give psychosocial support and counselling and provide a pathway to livelihoods where survivors could take control of their finances, look after their families’ needs, and increase their financial autonomy. Talking with project participants, this has increased their self-belief and self-esteem and has resulted in positive impacts on mental health. The project also provides practical solutions to decrease vulnerability.”

Marchant advocates that models of robust community consultation with relevant local organisations that understand the issues are key to making a measurable difference in the lives of those living in remote or underserved communities.

“At AOP, we recognise that local organisations who know and understand the local context are often best positioned to design and implement culturally appropriate interventions that get to the core of the issues. Directly engaging with the affected communities is how we can all help to effectively take action against poverty.”
Action on Poverty supports health programs in the Pacific

Action on Poverty currently works across 14 countries to connect philanthropists, corporates, non-profits, and innovators with developing communities and local NGOs across Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.