Depression, Climate, Paraguay, South Africa, Trade: 2 April 2017

In this week’s email:

  • World Health Day – 7 April
  • Pray and Fast for the Climate – April
  • Short Notes: Paraguay, South Africa, Brexit and Trade, Fair Trade at Easter
  • John Madeley

Can these dry bones live? Whether these words in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings make you think about dry places in your own life or other people affected by spiritual, mental or physical dryness, it’s a question which we’ve all asked at some point. Thanks be to God for the hope of new life in this week’s readings … and in the saving work of Christ on the cross, which we are preparing to celebrate.

World Health Day – 7 April

World Health Day, held annually on the anniversary of the World Health Organization’s founding in 1948, is “a unique opportunity to mobilize action around a specific health topic of concern to people all over the world.” This year the WHO has  chosen to focus on depression.

Perhaps the same impulses that mean we are often reluctant to talk about depression here in the UK mean that people don’t raise it as a genuine and pressing issue in other situations around the world. But it is no less real for that – and no less real than more obvious issues like hunger. Indeed, last October the WHO launched a year-long campaign, Depression: Let’s Talk, focusing on depression as a global issue.

In their recent publication ‘Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders – Global Health Estimates’, the WHO report that globally the total number of people with depression was estimated to exceed 300 million in 2015.

That’s more than 4% of the world’s population. And contrary to the common supposition that depression is a ‘Western’ disease, 80% of the people affected live in low- and middle-income countries, and the highest rate of depression is 5.9% among women in the African region. Depression is more prevalent in women than in men in every WHO region (and, globally, across all age groups).

Unsurprisingly, people are more likely to suffer mental health problems in emergency situations. Mental health problems can be induced both by the emergency itself (for example as a result of grief, distress, family separation, loss of livelihood or the tearing of the fabric of ordinary life) and also by circumstances arising during the humanitarian response (for example through overcrowding in camps, lack of privacy or anxiety caused by a lack of information). In addition, an emergency can exacerbate people’s pre-existing conditions.

In a World Bank blog Patricio V. Marquez calls for more to address these issues, noting “While most of those exposed to emergencies suffer some form of psychological distress, accumulated evidence shows that 15-20% of crisis-affected populations develop mild-to moderate mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). And, 3-4% develop severe mental disorders, such as psychosis or debilitating depression and anxiety, which affect their ability to function and survive.” Mental health issues affected over 10% of people visiting clinics in Nepal following the earthquake in 2015 and recent harrowing reports from Syria show the profoundly traumatic impact the conflict is having on children’s mental health. In their recent report, Invisible Wounds, Save the Children quote a teacher from the besieged town of Madaya who told them, “The children are psychologically crushed and tired. When we do activities like singing with them, they don’t respond at all. They don’t laugh like they would normally. They draw images of children being butchered in the war, or tanks, or the siege and the lack of food.” Save the Children also reference a 2015 study of Syrian refugee children in Turkey, which found that 45% of the children showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and 44% showed symptoms of depression.

As we think about and pray for people suffering debilitating depression in traumatic situations of crisis, we also want to remember and pray for people who might not be ‘clinically’ depressed, but whose mental well-being is adversely affected by crises or by chronically difficult situations – perhaps of poverty or providing long-term care. The reality of this issue was forcefully brought home to me (Elizabeth) back in 2005 when I visited a home-based care project for people living with HIV and AIDS in Zambia. At the time, antiretroviral drugs were not commonly available, and death rates were very high. I spent a morning with Anne, a nurse counsellor, visiting clients in the area she supervised. I was able to meet some of the people she helped care for: women living in extreme poverty who received nursing care, medicines, nutritional supplements and practical help with cooking and cleaning from volunteers of the home-based care (HBC) programme. The love and care shown to the clients by the HBC staff and volunteers was deeply moving and greatly appreciated by the recipients. But it came at a cost. Anne told me about the burn-out that staff and volunteers commonly experienced from the relentless cycle of “making friends with clients, seeing them struggle with insufficient food, and eventually dying… and the toll of constant funerals”.

Please pray:

  • For all people living with depression – that they might find support and healing.
  • For the WHO’s Depression: Let’s Talk campaign – that it would help to break some of the stigma associated with depression and other mental health disorders, help people to become better informed about depression, and encourage people with depression to seek help.
  • In thanksgiving for the recognition, by the WHO and other agencies, of the need to integrate mental health care into how they respond to emergencies. See here for more.
  • For agencies working in crisis situations as they work to provide effective mental health care.
  • For the children of Syria and other conflicts, who have experienced trauma and mental scarring – that they might find healing and peace.
  • For the millions of unknown people who feel overwhelmed and burnt-out by the care they provide in chronically difficult circumstances.

Pray and Fast for the Climate – April

The first of each month is marked as a day to Pray and Fast for the Climate – but we need prayers for climate action throughout the month … so we’re including the Pray and Fast April prayer points with this email.

Please do use the materials in your public and private prayers throughout this month.  And during the Easter season, look forward to some stories of hope from Christians who are working to care for creation, sometimes under difficult circumstances ….

Short Notes: Paraguay, South Africa, Brexit and Trade, Fair Trade at Easter

Please pray for …

  • Paraguay

    Paraguay’s capital of Asunción erupted last night as protesters demonstrated against a secret Senate vote in favour of a constitutional amendment allowing the current President, Horacio Cartes, to run for re-election in 2018. Pray for a just and peaceful solution to the situation and to the wider political and economic issues facing the country.

  • South Africa

    South Africa also faces political instability – and, many are arguing a fundamental choice of direction (Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, Oscar van Heerden, Mail & Guardian, Richard Calland, FT, ) – after President Jacob Zuma, over the objections of many in his party, fired widely-respected Treasury Minister Pravin Gordhan in a major cabinet reshuffle. Gordhan had opposed state corruption, and his ousting and replacement with a Zuma loyalist is seen as problematic both economically and politically. The Archbishop of Cape Town described this as “an assault on the poor,” adding, “Who stands to gain when corrupt elites enrich themselves on the side while doing deals worth billions of rand with state-owned enterprises? … I hope the ruling party will reflect on how they are betraying the hopes of our people and take appropriate action. Civil society too will have to consider for how long we stand by helplessly and watch the gains of our democracy destroyed.”

    Pray for wisdom for all in government and all in positions of religious, economic and social leadership. Pray for moves that increase justice and transparency, reduce corruption and inequality, and provide stability and a better life for all South Africa’s people.

  • Brexit and Trade

    There’s much to pray for around post-Brexit trading arrangements, but today we’d commend two points. First, pray for a new campaign that asks the government to  protect people from the world’s poorest countries against negative trade impacts following Brexit … and to go further by promoting development-friendly trade. Secondly, the US has just released its 2017 report on what it considers ‘foreign trade barriers’. If you read the chapter on barriers to trade with the EU, you’ll see that it includes many environmental, chemical and food standards that help to promote care for creation. If these are considered ‘trade barriers’, they will almost certainly be key negotiating targets in any bilateral deal that the US does with the UK. Pray firstly for US politicians to grow in their desire to care for creation – and secondly for UK politicians to be prepared to stand up for higher standards while negotiating new deals.

  • Fair Trade at Easter

    Please do remind people in your churches about Fairtrade Easter treats, especially the Real Easter Egg (available in Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons and a few Co-ops, as well as online through Traidcraft and the Meaningful Chocolate Company itself). Many churches have already ordered the eggs for parishioners … but there are always a few people still looking late in the day. The Real Easter Egg is Fairtrade-certified, offers a donation to charity, and tells the story of Easter … a win/win all around.


John Madeley

It was with great regret that we learned this week of the death of John Madeley, a leading writer on development issues – especially around trade – and a good friend to CCOW for the past several decades.

John combined gentle kindness, a deep spirituality, and a fierce passion for justice for the poor. We give thanks for his life, and ask God to send comfort to all who mourn his death.