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Mental health in Mongolia

Mongolia conjures up an image of wild open space, and rich background of battle and survival, the world has historically characterized Mongolia as a nation of the tough and fighting fit. This remains until today, with the country’s relatively small population of 3.5 million braving harsh living conditions in severe winters that can fall below -50 Celsius and about 27.8 % (as of 2020 statistics) of the total population living in poverty. Though much research exists on the grit of Mongolians, research on the impacts of harsh living conditions on mental health in Mongolia is less common.

From 1900 until now, monks have been closer to the faith and hearts of the Mongolian people, perhaps because they were our psychologists. Still, now many people go to a Buddhist monastery for ease of getting well. Mongolian people especially nomad people who live in the countryside, are not very open about how they feel. But since society is changing and as well as the nomadic people moving to the city, the lifestyle transferring into a sedentary lifestyle people feel anxiety and need to talk about how they feel.

The State of Mental Health Care in Mongolia today

In our country, mental health has been openly talked about just recently. People are realizing that in modern times, everything has changed. Psychologists and mental health therapists are the ones who heal your psychological problems.

In our country, "The Law on Mental Health" was approved by the parliament in 2013 with a revised version, and the National Mental Health Program was successfully implemented in 2010-2019, and certain progress and results were achieved.

From the minimal amount of data available on Mongolian mental health care, it is apparent that, as of 2017, Mongolia has a single mental hospital in Ulaan Baatar. WHO states that there is one “mental health outpatient facility attached to a hospital” but there is no or no reported “community-based or non-hospital mental health outpatient facility” and no or no reported “other outpatient facilities.” WHO also found that in 2017 the Mongolian government did not spend any of its total health budget on the mental health sector.

Furthermore, a 2005 study found that 90% of Mongolia’s mental health experts had been trained in the 1970s and 1980s and lacked the “knowledge, attitude and skills required for community-based mental health care.” This poses a dangerous situation for all Mongolians in need of care, particularly those for whom access to mental health care can be a matter of life or death.

In 2015, suicide stood as the cause of about a quarter of deaths among adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19. Even more alarming is the fact that “according to the 2013 Global School-based Student Health Survey, 32.1% of girls between the ages of 16 and 17 had seriously considered suicide and 11.6% had attempted suicide within the last year.”

Furthermore, although mental health services for the youth are few, a 2017 study reported a high prevalence of mental health issues among Mongolian adolescents, standing at 43%.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates existing issues, taking a significant toll on the physical and mental health of Mongolians. The pandemic has placed immense pressure on the “relatively young and inexperienced health care professionals” in Mongolia, obliging them to take on “continuous and long work hours.” This has led to healthcare workers exhibiting signs of mental afflictions.

Efforts to Help

Without easy access to proper mental health care, much of the population remains at risk of suffering from mental illness. However, with much research emphasizing the importance of community in fostering positive mental well-being, Mongolia has introduced community-based services across the country.

One example of this is the WHO and SOROS Foundation-funded ‘Ger’ project, in which project partners set up portable Mongolian roundhouses called ‘gers’ across rural areas as community-based day centers staffed by general health care. Established in 2000, the project provided “people with chronic mental illnesses with the opportunity to increase their social and living skills” through psychosocial rehabilitation. The ‘Ger’ project saw success – from 2002-2007, the relapse of mental illnesses of ‘Ger’ project patients reduced by 95%. However, despite its success, the ‘Ger’ is not currently running.

UNICEF Mongolia launched a virtual campaign to promote healthy lifestyles and reduce stress and anxiety in communities. Launched in 2021 and lasting 10 days, around 400 youth volunteers received mental health training from psychologists and professionals, including guidance on self-help techniques. The volunteers then had to “create support groups among their communities and peers” and “provide information and knowledge on mental health to their support groups” while putting into practice the self-help techniques. Named “From Awareness to Action; let’s keep our mind healthy!”, the campaign helped participants to “reduce their stress and anxiety” through group support.

Looking Ahead

With comprehensive and concrete mental health care services few and far between, the Mongolian government may need to take more significant steps in order to support the mental well-being of its citizens. Recent projects show that when organizations prioritize community services and mobilize the youth to spread awareness of self-care, mental health in Mongolia has great potential for improvement.

For example, JAMOGRAND organized an event for a professional psychologist to give general knowledge about mental health and well-being.

It is most important to cooperate with educational institutions and the psychological and mental health of children and adolescents. Health, parents, teachers, and educators, as well as paying attention to the "School-based mental health program" implemented in many countries, has become an urgent problem.

The Mongolian professional art therapy association nongovernment and non-profit organization organized to promote art therapy by organizing open days, events, meetings, and public gatherings Develop art therapy programs for children who have suffered domestic violence, bullying, attempted suicide, and grief issues, organize stress reduction art therapy programs to help professionals prevent burn out, and strengthen their capacity to provide better quality services to their clients of all ages;

In the future, interdisciplinary participation and quality improvement in activities to improve and support the mental health of citizens, provide evidence-based care services, analyze the current and past conditions, create financial and other support for research and development activities, increase modern techniques in care, The Ministry of Health is working to improve the quality and availability of personnel.

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