NEW GUIDELINES TO IMPROVE
PSYCHOLOGICAL AND SOCIAL ASSISTANCE IN EMERGENCIES RELEASED
Geneva, 14 September 2007
- International humanitarian agencies have agreed on a new set
of guidelines to address the mental health and psychosocial
needs of survivors as part of the response to conflict or
The Inter-Agency Standing
Committee (lASC) Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial
Support in Emergency Settings clearly state that protecting
and promoting mental health and psychosocial well-being is the
responsibility of all humanitarian agencies and workers. Until
now, many people involved in emergency response have viewed
mental health and psychosocial well-being as the sole
responsibility of psychiatrists and psychologists.
"These new IASC guidelines are
a significant step towards providing better care and support to
people in disaster- and conflict-affected areas worldwide," said
Dr Ala Alwan, Assistant Director-General for Health Action in
Crises at the World Health Organization.
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.
These can threaten peace, people's human rights and development.
"Yet, when communities and
services provide protection and support, most individuals have
been shown to be remarkably resilient. While this is
increasingly recognised, many actors identified the need for a
coherent, systematic approach that can be applied in large
emergencies. The guidelines address this gap.
The guidelines have been
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 NGO consortia. The guidelines have been
developed by staff from 27 agencies through a highly
"Drafting the guidelines has
been a joint effort of a broad range of key actors in the
diverse sectors of humanitarian aid and we are happy to see the
synergy and commitment," said Mr Jim Bishop, Vice President for
Humanitarian Policy and Practice of InterAction, the consortium
of US-based international NGOs.
The guidelines layout the
essential first steps in protecting or promoting people's mental
health and psychosocial well-being in the midst of emergencies.
They identify useful practices and flag potentially harmful
ones, and clarify how different approaches complement one
"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" said Ms Ruvendrini
Menikdiwela, Deputy Director, Division for International
Protection Services at the Office of the United Nations High
Commissioner of Refugees.
The guidelines have a clear
focus on social interventions and supports. They emphasize the
importance of building on local resources such as teachers,
health workers, healers, and women's groups to promote
psychosocial well-being. They focus on strengthening social
networks and building on existing ways community members deal
with distress in their lives.
The guidelines include
attention to protection and care of people with severe mental
disorders, including severe trauma-induced disorders, as well as
access to psychological first aid for those in acute distress.
The guidelines stress that the
way in which humanitarian aid is provided can have a substantial
impact on people's mental health and psychosocial well-being.
Treating survivors with dignity and enabling them to participate
in and organize emergency support is essential.
Coordination of mental health
and psychosocial support is difficult in large emergencies
involving numerous agencies. Affected populations can be
overwhelmed by outsiders, and local contributions to mental
health and psychosocial support are easily marginalised or
Dr. Bruce Eshaya-Chauvin, Head
of the Health and Care Department at the International
Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, remarked:
"Achieving improved psychosocial support for populations
affected by crises requires coordinated action among all
government and non-government and humanitarian actors. These
guidelines give sensible advice on how to achieve that."
"These guidelines now need to
be transferred from paper into concrete action at the field
level so that those affected by disasters and conflict will
benefit from the work done on them. NGOs can playa major role in
this regard." said Ms Mqnisha Thomas, acting Coordinator of the
International Council of Voluntary Agencies.