What will it take to break cycles of violence and promote peace? What are some of the building blocks to overcome entrenched patterns and narratives to find life in its aftermath? Through our work at Brio and at Glasswing, we have witnessed the power of integrating mental health support, awareness, and skill-building to help individuals and communities experience healing and liberation—even in the presence of trauma and grief. We have witnessed the way mental health makes it possible for survivors of violence to experience restoration and agency. It helps young people living in adverse environments learn to relate to each other—and themselves—in more gentle and compassionate ways. It creates systems and structures that respond to the effects of violence with greater understanding and empathy, breaking the vicious cycle.

Mental health is a primary building block to cultivating pathways of peace where violence has been the dominant narrative. It makes collective healing possible, and tells a new story about who we really are.

Effective violence prevention and peacebuilding require thinking more broadly and creatively at the individual, communal, and systems levels. We can address the root cause by helping individuals and communities better navigate difficult inner experiences, while transforming systems and structures to support healing. Taking a public health approach that includes the whole population can strengthen the powerful processes that encompass traditional peacebuilding. In addition to the examples we have shared in this article, models such as The Friendship Bench in Zimbabwe, CorStone in India, and BasicNeeds in Kenya demonstrate effective mental health interventions with active stakeholder participation.

To truly integrate mental health perspectives and practices to build peace, we need collective action. We have heard from many social sector leaders that mental health is of great need and priority, but it can be difficult to know where to start. Our vision is for all of us to join the mental health ecosystem, beginning with the following steps and moving toward greater committed action.

  • Shift the narrativeAll too often, violence and reactions to violence are attributed to individual moral failing. Many of us are now familiar with the idea of being trauma-informed and understand that stressful and traumatic events have a powerful influence on how we think, feel, and interact with others.
  • Reflect togetherBuilding a mental health ecosystem begins with becoming aware of what might be happening in our places of work—among team members and community members. Questions to consider with your team:
  • Learn and support your own growthThere are many resources available to begin learning about mental health and the power of collective healing. We have selected a few for you as a starting point.

Read the full article about mental health by Celina De Sola and Daisy Rosales at Stanford Social Innovation Review.