Gladys* walks slowly, talks quietly, and seems sick. There are days when she expresses hope about finding her grandchildren, son, and daughter-in-law, and other days when she plunges into deep despair over their disappearance. In the five years since she last saw them she has had trouble eating or sleeping, and her search for them—still fruitless—has left her exhausted.
This mother and grandmother is one of the many patients, mostly women, receiving treatment from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams in the city of Reynosa, Tamaulipas state, in northern Mexico. Using a model of comprehensive care that includes medical, psychological, and social services, we care for survivors of violence—including sexual violence—in an area with one of the largest numbers of forced disappearances in Mexico.
“The number of people who go missing is high because of the context of violence that exists in the border area due to clashes between cartels and their confrontations with the military,” says Juan Carlos Arteaga, mental health activity manager for MSF in Mexico and Honduras. When violence in the area worsened, MSF identified a need to intervene, and, at the end of 2016, opened a project with a specific focus on mental health. The violence people live with every day in Reynosa “leaves a lot of psychological scars,” according to Arteaga.
Improving quality of life
“Our psychological teams in Reynosa regularly identify patients like Gladys who have suffered the disappearance of a family member,” says Nora Valdivia, an MSF clinical psychologist. “These are people who have an urgent need to speak to someone to help express their pain.”