By Dr. Sonasha Braxton, Senior Technical Advisor for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) at RefugePoint
The SNF Nostos 2023 Conference, hosted by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, convened experts, practitioners, and activists in Athens, Greece from June 21 to 23. With a focus on youth mental health, the event explored loneliness among youth, arts integration, AI, technology, the importance of support systems, and community-based health approaches, fostering collaborative solutions for a more inclusive and mentally resilient world.
Attendees discussed the progress of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Initiative, which shaped discussions throughout the event. Concurrent sessions unfolded across multiple venues within the SNF center, facilitating dynamic conversations and numerous important takeaways for RefugePoint. Notably, Former President Barack Obama took part in this year’s conference, along with speakers from the UN, INGOs, the private sector, sports teams, and more.
Key Topics Explored: Youth Mental Health, Challenges, and Solutions
The conference covered numerous topics, addressing both challenges and innovative approaches to mental health. Prominent discussions centered around specific populations’ mental health challenges, integration of cultural-affirming mental health care, and the detrimental impact of stigma.
SNF’s Mental Health Leadership
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation has emerged as a prominent advocate and influencer in the global mental health community. Its Global Health Initiative (GHI) has a strong focus on mental health, aiming to enhance access, quality, and equity globally. The SNF Global Center for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, established in partnership with the Child Mind Institute, facilitates improved youth mental health care by increasing access to information and training, promoting partnerships and knowledge exchange, and reducing stigma and discrimination.
Partnerships in Mental Health and the Arts
SNF has formed partnerships with a number of organizations performing ground-breaking work at the crossroads of arts and mental health. The International Arts+Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins, an innovation hub exploring the nexus of arts and brain science, and The Office Arts, which bridges arts, social impact, and mental health, are emblematic of this creative synergy. These partnerships, along with numerous presentations, lectures, and speakers, underscore the potential for innovative scaling of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support within the RefugePoint framework, and that of other organizations in our field.
Mental Health Support for Refugees
Set against the backdrop of the Messenia Migrant Boat disaster on June 14th, 2023—where a boat carrying up to 750 Pakistani, Syrian, Egyptian, and Palestinian refugees and migrants capsized off the coast of Southern Greece—the conference spotlighted the critical topic of refugee mental health. Given the global media attention on this event and the historically large population of refugees and Migrants in Greece, conversations around refugee mental health were prominent throughout the conference. We discussed ways in which processes, policies, and procedures in the humanitarian and asylum system can sometimes manifest in ways that are less than humane, and therefore require internal shifts in policy and practice. Effectively, the conference showcased the necessity for a trauma-informed approach, one of RefugePoints guiding principles.
RefugePoint’s Integration of MHPSS
RefugePoint’s Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) program, is committed to supporting client and staff wellbeing. Poor mental health results in psychological distress, which can impair social interaction and daily functioning. For clients, receiving mental health support through counseling is just as essential as business support, food assistance, or education support. The purpose of staff well-being is to support healthy human beings within the workplace, improve their quality of work, and sustain a productive workforce. A trauma-informed approach is central to our MHPSS work and found throughout the rest of our programs.
The Importance of a Trauma-Informed Approach
The trauma-informed approach in mental health emphasizes creating a safe and supportive environment that recognizes the widespread impact of trauma. It is guided by the “Four R’s”: Realization about trauma and how it can affect people and groups, recognizing the signs of trauma, having a system that can respond to trauma, and resisting re-traumatization. Through the principles of collaboration, empowerment, voice, choice, trustworthiness, and cultural awareness, it seeks to integrate understanding and sensitivity to trauma’s effects into all aspects of client engagement.
Outcomes of the 2023 SNF Nostos Conference
The conference illuminated RefugePoint’s trajectory in the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) landscape. It highlighted the organization’s evolution toward a truly trauma-informed approach. The event provided a platform for expanding and deepening the MHPSS community of practice, fostering connections with like-minded organizations, and identifying opportunities for innovative approaches to mental health through the integration of the arts, youth voices, and technology.