Introduction mental health and psychosocial support

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1. Introduction Mental health and psychosocial support [MHPSS] activities are now an integral part of any humanitarian response, and as such are recognised as requirements of humanitarian response across a range of contexts and scenarios. For example, in humanitarian emergencies over recent years, including the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, displacement from Libya in 2011, and the on-going humanitarian crisis in Syria, the mental health and psychosocial impacts of conflict, disaster and displacement have been widely recognised, and the provision of a range of interventions to support individuals and communities in dealing with the impacts of conflict and disaster have occurred in the early stages of humanitarian response. As well, in situations of protracted displacement, mental health and psychosocial activities are increasingly recognised as vital interventions to assist communities in drawing on and building resilience to cope with stress associated with long-term displacement. Until the late 1980s, the primary concern of humanitarian response was provision of services to meet basic material needs of displaced persons. Mental health and psychosocial problems of refugees were rarely, if ever, discussed or addressed. A number of events and processes precipitated interest and investment in mental health and psychosocial concerns in humanitarian settings. In a number of humanitarian crises, including displacement from Cambodia and the crises in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, mental health and psychosocial issues of affected populations came to the fore. Studies identified extensive needs amongst affected communities, and a large number of activities were implemented to address these needs. Moreover, the emergence and consolidation of an evidence-base demonstrating the mental health and psychosocial needs of displaced persons further expanded focus and attention on these issues. Improved co-ordination and inter-agency collaboration, stemming from the 2005 establishment of the Interagency Standing Committee [IASC] MHPSS Task Force, also contributed toward increased attention to these activities within the humanitarian community. UNHCR’s global protection mandate should include addressing the MHPSS needs of the people they serve for a number of reasons. First, while varying according to context and population, it is clear that conflict and displacement can bring about new mental health and psychosocial issues, and also exacerbate pre-existing conditions amongst people who have been displaced. As the IASC Guidelines summarise, humanitarian emergencies may cause social issues such as family separation, destruction of community structures and social networks, and psychological issues including depression, grief, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder [PSTD] related to exposure to trauma and displacement.
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  • Fall '19
  • Humanitarian aid, psychosocial support

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