New UN-backed guidelines issued to tackle mental health problems in conflicts, disasters

14 September 2007

United Nations and other international humanitarian agencies have agreed on a new set of guidelines to address the mental health and psychosocial needs of survivors in response to emergencies such as conflicts or disasters, identifying useful practices and flagging potentially harmful ones.

United Nations and other international humanitarian agencies have agreed on a new set of guidelines to address the mental health and psychosocial needs of survivors in response to emergencies such as conflicts or disasters, identifying useful practices and flagging potentially harmful ones.

With a clear focus on social interventions and support, they emphasize the importance of building on local resources such as teachers, health workers, healers, and women’s groups to promote psychosocial well-being, and include ways to protect and care for people with severe trauma-induced mental disorders and provide psychological first aid for those in acute distress.

“The new guidelines present a major step forward to much better protect the mental health and psychosocial well-being of displaced persons using an integrated approach in collaboration with all partners,” UN High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) Deputy Director for International Protection Services Ruvendrini Menikdiwela said of The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings.

“These new IASC guidelines are a significant step towards providing better care and support to people in disaster- and conflict-affected areas worldwide,” UN World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director-General for Health Action in Crises Ala Alwan added.

Recent conflicts and natural disasters in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Sudan among many others involve substantial psychological and social suffering in the short term, which if not adequately addressed can lead to long-term mental health and psychosocial problems, threatening peace, people’s human rights and development, WHO warned.

The guidelines, published by the IASC, a committee that is responsible for world-wide humanitarian policy and consists of heads of relevant UN and other intergovernmental agencies, Red Cross and Red Crescent agencies, and non-governmental organization consortia, were developed by staff from 27 agencies.

They stress that treating survivors with dignity and enabling them to participate in and organize emergency support is essential and highlight the difficulties of coordinating mental health and psychosocial support in large emergencies involving numerous agencies when affected populations can be overwhelmed by outsiders and local contributions to mental health and psychosocial support are easily marginalized or undermined.

 

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