Written by Alyssa Esparaz

As I interact with students across Canada in my role as a youth worker and with Compassion Canada, it’s clear to me that there are many things that can make a battle with mental illness even more challenging: stigma, limited mental health resources, difficult relationships.

For these two teens, living in poverty has added challenge to their battles with mental illness—and has made the support of Compassion and their local church even more important.

Meet Joffian in Indonesia

Joffian had a deep bond with his mother. She passed away from a heart attack when he was 14, triggering a downward spiral in his mental health. He started to hurt himself and others and get into fights. He became a well known troublemaker in his community and withdrew from friendships.

One of the staff at his Compassion centre, Veronika, noticed the changes in Joffian and decided to take action. “I was really worried and sad because of his condition,” she says. Veronika and another staff member, Friyandly, took Joffian to the local hospital, where he was diagnosed with severe depression.

The doctor recommended Joffian see a psychiatrist. However, due to the limited number of psychiatrists in his city, Joffian would have to travel to another city to get the proper treatment.

Veronika and Friyandly were determined to do whatever it took to help Joffian get healthy. Compassion provided financial support for the treatment, and Friyandly accompanied Joffian and his father to the neighbouring city to get the right treatment.

“I felt relaxed when I talked with the psychiatrist,” Joffian says. “She gave her time to listen to me.” Joffian received two weeks of intensive treatment and returned home when his doctor saw him improving. He will be able to return for more treatment if he needs, but for now he has learned healthy ways to grieve and is leaning on the support of his community as he continues to heal.

There is an immense amount of stigma around mental illness in Indonesia, but leaders like Veronika and Friyandly are breaking down barriers for youth to gain access to the care they need, helping them thrive in every aspect of life.

Meet Esmeralda in Nicaragua

Esmeralda was nine years old when her mother and grandmother first left to find better job opportunities. Despite being left in the care of her aunt, Esmeralda had to fend for herself and care for her two younger sisters as well. “I was only a child, but I became their [gaurdian],” she says.

At this point in her life, Esmeralda fell into a deep depression and developed trichophagia, a condition that caused her to compulsively pull out her hair and eat it. Esmeralda needed both psychological support and a surgery to remove the hair from her stomach. Her mother and grandmother returned home to care for her, and she soon recovered.

But at 14, her mother and grandmother moved away again, and her trichophagia returned. Esmeralda desperately tried to hide her condition from the people around her. “I would tie my hair up. To hide how thin I was, I wore long sleeves and layers,” she says.

When she started regularly missing days at her Compassion centre, the staff knew something was wrong. “[We went to visit and found] she was extremely sad; her spirit was broken. She was so weak that she could not even sit up,” says Diana, Esmeralda’s centre director. “We were able to get Esmeralda to a specialized doctor.”

The support of her community helped Esmeralda get better. They made food packages to help her regain strength, and, at the recommendation of her doctor, helped her keep her hands busy through activities at the Compassion centre, in order to fight the urge to pull her hair.

“When I saw that I had finally gained weight, and was not tired or sad all the time, I said to myself: ‘I’m finally free,’” says Esmeralda. “I thanked the Lord because I had prayed a lot for my recovery.”

Support to Thrive

We were created as physical, spiritual, emotional, social and psychological beings. In order to thrive, our whole selves need to be cared for—including our mental health. That’s why overcoming poverty isn’t just a matter of meeting material needs. We want youth to thrive in every aspect of life. Joffian and Esmeralda continue to receive the support they need for their mental health, as do others like them all over the world.

We’re all on a continuous journey towards experiencing more and more of the abundant life that Jesus has for us! As Joffian and Esmeralda’s stories show us, that often happens when we reach out for help and let in the people around us to love, support, and care for us.

Learn more about how Compassion supports kids living in poverty at www.compassion.ca.

Field reporting by Vera Aurima (Indonesia) and Junieth Dinarte (Nicaragua).