Understanding & Designing your Mental Health Plan

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Mental health has become more important than ever, with more and more human rights defenders facing intense adversity and stress. Many people have limited understanding of what mental health services are and the different pathways of healing that can exist. This is further complicated by cultural barriers, such as norms that prevent people from prioritizing their mental health.

Mathero Nkhalamba demystified mental health, helping individuals understand:

  • The types of practices and methods available (therapy, counseling, mediation, etc) with an eye towards cultural and religious considerations
  • How to create goals for your own mental health plan
  • Why self-care and mental health is important to you and your work


Bio: Mathero Nkhalamba (she/her) has extensive experience living and working in various countries, from Malawi to Wales, allowing her to approach this discussion from a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary perspective. Mathero started her career as a lecturer in Psychology at the University of Malawi. She holds a PhD in Psychology from Rhodes University, South Africa and a Masters in Foundation of Clinical Psychology from Bangor University, Wales. She is also trained in trauma recovery. She provides consultations to various organizations working in high risk contexts, and works with survivors of violence, people living with HIV and university students. Her primary orientation is in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which entails helping individuals identify beliefs or thinking patterns that sustain their distress, while instilling healthy coping styles and building resilience to face challenges.

Resources from Session:

Q&A

How would I go about translating (mental health plan) to my community/organization?

Starting off with psychoeducational material is helpful. Sharing information and resources on: what is mental health? What are the different mental health services? This is helpful in that it is both informative but also destigmatizes mental health. It is also helpful to create discussions around mental health: ask your community, what is it like for them to discuss mental health? Are there any resistances/hesitations? Finally, within the organization - it is helpful to create policies that center the employee's wellbeing.

I'm interesting in knowing more about existential therapy/healing

Existential therapy supports clients in creating meaning and connecting to their sources of meaning.

What kind of questions should you be asking a therapist or mental health professional when you are contacting them for the first time?

You can ask the therapist about their therapeutic style, their training and their policies (cancellation policy, the duration of the session..etc). You can also ask them what to expect from the process.

What is considered body work in therapy/mental health services?

Therapies that are focused on releasing an emotion from the body or connecting to the emotion in the body. Examples can include: Gestalt, IFS, AEDP or more traditional Eastern practices such as kundalini, acupuncture...etc

How can I ensure that my therapist is using the most secure forms of communication? I had a bad experience with a therapist because I saw that they were not using the best digisec practices.

Many therapists are not informed about digital security. I recommend that you name and articulate your needs. You can say something like “for me to feel safe in therapy, it is important for me to use a secure platform. Would it be possible for our sessions to use “x” platform?”

How can I differentiate between normal everyday stress and a mental illness?

Mental health struggles are considered an illness when 1) they affect functioning (ability to go to work, ability to maintain relationships...etc) and when they are consistent over time regardless of the external world.

What are some of the resources you would recommend for community managers (and non mental health professional) on how to handle conversations with people (specific case of at-risk human rights defenders) who need mental health support, share about their trauma?

We have a talk coming up in the village that will address this exact topic. Here is also a free course on psychological first aid: https://www.coursera.org/learn/psychological-first-aid

Other resources for organizations: https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/