This week, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) hosted an event to launch new guidelines aimed at treating perinatal depression in Yemen.

The Thinking Healthy Program Guideline, developed by the IRC and the Ministry of Public Health and Population in Yemen, will train community health workers to support expecting and new mothers with depression using cognitive behavioral techniques.

The Guideline, the first of its kind in Yemen, includes a series of modules to promote mental health and psychosocial well-being from pregnancy to late infancy. It is adapted and contextualized from the World Health Organisation’s global Thinking Healthy manual.

The workshop was attended by senior officials including the Minister of Health Dr. Mohammed Qassim Behibeh and the Deputy Minister for Primary Health Care Dr. Ali Al Walidee, alongside experts from the Ministry of Public Health and Population.

Perinatal depression is a mood disorder that occurs during pregnancy and after childbirth. Women and other postpartum people with perinatal depression experience sadness, anxiety and fatigue that may make it difficult to carry out daily tasks. Treating depression is critical for the health of the mother and her baby, as the disorder can have serious effects on both.

Dr. Samiha Awad Bataher, Health Coordinator for IRC Yemen, said, “Conflict, lack of food, water, and access to basic health services, mean that pregnancies and birth pose additional mental health risks for women and girls in Yemen. However, mental health care remains scarce, and mental illness is highly stigmatized. The Thinking Healthy Program Guideline will help to improve access to life-saving mental health services for thousands of pregnant women and new mothers across the country.”.

In Yemen, at least seven million people require mental health support, but just 120,000 people have access to these services in the country. There are only a handful of psychiatrists in Yemen – around one per 700,000 people.

The IRC is proud to have co- led the development of the Thinking Healthy Program Guideline and its pilot implementation through forty community health workers since 2021 in partnership with the Ministry of Public Health and Population under the Basic Needs and Essential Services for Conflict-Affected and Hard-to-Reach Communities in Yemen project, funded by the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance.

Working with families and communities in Yemen, the IRC continues to provide psychosocial support through trained community health workers, mobile health teams and static health facilities, as well as specialized services delivered by psychologists and psychiatrists. In addition, the IRC implements the mental health Gap Action Program (mhGAP) which aims to improve access to comprehensive mental health care.

The IRC is urgently calling on donors to fully fund the 2024 Humanitarian Response Plan requirement of $2.7 billion, including funding for lifesaving mental health and psychosocial support, as well as reproductive health services, to meet the needs of women and girls across the country.