Movie Night: Mental Health in South Sudan

A long stay in hospital is stressful for anyone, but especially for children. Mental health specialist Margaret shares a creative approach from a UN camp in South Sudan...

At MSF’s hospital in Bentiu Protection of Civilians camp (PoC) in South Sudan, the average length of stay for children in the paediatric surgical ward is six weeks. Some kids in the inpatient therapeutic feeding centre stay for four weeks or more.

That’s a long time to be in the hospital.

To combat stress, our mental health team at the hospital tries to facilitate at least three fun activities for children and their caregivers a week, but sometimes, we get busy. Last week the mental health team was caught up with some crises, so we weren’t able to stick to our normal schedule.

We had to come up with a new plan.

The plan

While trying to figure out how to put something together that would help our patients without taking up too many resources, the thought occurred to me to set up an evening animated movie!

This would provide auditory and visual stimulation for young patients and their caregivers, and wouldn’t even require a translator as the “language” of the animation is universal due to its visual and auditory nature.

The surprise

We set up in the hospital’s new child-friendly space, which has become a popular meeting point for children and their caregivers. As we began setting up, the children became curious and wanted to know what we were doing.

I told them it was a surprise (I needed a translator for this one), and they all laughed, giggled, and came closer to watch as the different electrical connections, screen, and computer were set up.

Finally, it was time to begin the movie. I had a translator explain to them that they were going to have a movie evening watching a cartoon, and they all laughed, clapped, and started settling down on the benches.

For a couple hours, they were able to forget about their challenges and enjoy a stimulating-yet-relaxing evening of entertainment.

The happiest in the hospital

The goals of these groups is centered on how the children and caregivers are feeling about their long stay in the hospital, by sharing space, playing with toys together and supporting each other.

They share games in the wards, play ball together in the new child-friendly space, walk to the mental health office together on their crutches with the support of non-amputees, support newly admitted patients in the paediatric surgical ward, and inform the mental health team when one of them is having a bad day and needs assistance.

This sense of comradery has made wound cleaning and dressing days easier, and these young patients seem to be the happiest in the hospital!

Supporting each other

This same support system was also on full display during our movie night, as patients assisted their amputee friends with locating seats on the higher benches and informed me if someone needed a chair because they were unable to sit on a bench.

Caregivers were excited to see their children together, and some adult patients also joined in.

What is happening with these young patients definitively delightful and difficult to capture in words. It is an amazing healing experience and a sight to behold – one that we hope to continue to make this a regular part of our mental health programming moving forward.

Top images show children at play in the Bentiu Protection of Civilians Camp


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