One year passed before Bibiche heard about the care being provided by MSF for victims of sexual violence. “A female doctor had come to tell us about an organization of doctors here in Kananga that was treating rape survivors, even if the rape went back as far as last year,” says Bibiche. “When I came [here], the doctors all greeted me with a warm smile and I felt really welcome.”
Sexual violence victims see a psychologist when they first arrive at the hospital. “It helps to build trust with the patient and to make them feel comfortable before they have a medical examination,” says Angela Modarelli, MSF mental health manager in Kananga.
Often this is the first time a patient has spoken about what has happened to them, so it is important to create a safe and confidential space for the patient to tell their story.
Mental health treatment differs for each individual and is determined by evaluating the attack’s physical, psychological, and social consequences. Most patients attend three sessions, and more are provided as necessary. “We explain what trauma is, and what anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder look like,” says Modarelli. Long-term psychological trauma can trigger psychosomatic pain in various parts of the body, so MSF psychologists look for these symptoms and explain to the patient how mental health care can help. Psychoeducation groups are also incorporated into MSF’s mental health guidelines and provided to families and communities. MSF has begun to incorporate physical therapy into the program due to the violent nature of the attacks.