What is MHPSS?
Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) refers to, “….any type of local or outside support that aims to protect and promote psychosocial well-being and/or prevent or treat mental health conditions.”1,2 MHPSS services can be general, aimed at preventing the onset or increase of psychological distress, or specific, aimed at treating mental health conditions. These services can be offered at the community, family, group, and/or individual levels.
Why is MHPSS important in the humanitarian context?
The COVID-19 pandemic served as an accelerant for mental health distress across all settings, while also highlighting the importance of addressing mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian contexts. Approximately 22 percent of adults in conflict settings have mental health conditions3, and many more experience mental health distress that is undiagnosed or does not reach diagnostic levels but still contributes to suffering. Notably, these rates of mental health distress and disorders are likely underestimates since comprehensive data on mental health prevalence are lacking due to the stigma around mental health, a lack of mental health professionals, and the inability of individuals to access mental health services, especially in conflict settings.
While humanitarian contexts present unique and heightened mental health and psychosocial stressors for everyone, children in conflict settings face these toxic levels of stress during crucial stages of their development. Exposure to these heightened levels of stress during childhood contributes to depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders as well as disruptions in cognitive, social, and emotional development, leading to lifelong negative health and mental health consequences.4
Mental health conditions and distress can prevent individuals in humanitarian contexts from receiving the full range of benefits from foreign assistance programming. There is also growing consensus and focus on supporting the mental health needs of humanitarian workers, with the ICRC reporting similar levels of risk for mental health distress among humanitarian workers and the communities they work with.5,6
What is PRM’s MHPSS strategy?
PRM supports MHPSS programming, advocacy, and diplomacy in humanitarian contexts by:
- Grounding PRM-funded MHPSS programming in best practices that integrate localized knowledge on MHPSS with evidence-based information;
- Fortifying PRM’s capacity to support best practices in MHPSS programming through internal trainings, written guidance, and access to ongoing technical support;
- Expanding collaborative partnerships with relevant USG, international, and local partners; and
- Elevating MHPSS in global humanitarian programming and policy through targeted MHPSS messaging.
How is PRM supporting the mental health and psychosocial needs of refugees, conflict affected individuals, migrants, and stateless people?
PRM supports programming, advocacy, and diplomacy related to the mental health and psychosocial needs of refugees, conflict-affected individuals, migrants, and stateless people in a variety of ways.
Programming: PRM funds MHPSS programming through non-governmental and international organization (NGO and IO, respectively) partners, with the objective of reducing and treating mental health and psychosocial concerns for refugees, conflict-affected persons, migrants, and stateless people. Examples of PRM-funded MHPSS projects for Fiscal Year 2022 included, but are not limited to:
- Blue Dot Hubs: PRM funding supported UNHCR and UNICEF’s joint establishment of Blue Dot Hubs near the Ukrainian border and in major urban areas in countries hosting refugees from Ukraine following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In collaboration with local governments and NGOs, and with an emphasis on supporting children, women, and other vulnerable populations, these hubs offer a multitude of integrated services including mental health counseling, psychosocial support, and gender-based violence assessment and counseling. They are often co-located with other humanitarian services, such as emergency cash assistance registration points, to provide an easy entry point for refugees seeking assistance and to facilitate referrals to other services, including MHPSS. Safe Space, Protection and Support Hubs – Blue Dot Hub
- RET International’s psychosocial resilience programming for Malian refugees in Mauritania: PRM-funded programs include individual psychosocial support for youth and adults, specialized counseling, group therapy, and art therapy for children with disabilities in both camp and non-camp settings and with members of the host community.
- Jesuit Relief Services (JRS) in India: With PRM support, JRS provided MHPSS services to forcibly displaced children from Burma living in remote settlements in northeast India. These MHPSS activities are integrated into JRS’ education programming and assist forcibly displaced children with learning communication skills, increasing confidence, and enhancing social skills.
Advocacy: PRM regularly integrates the topic of the mental health and psychosocial support for refugees, conflict-affected persons, migrants, and stateless people into USG, international, bilateral, and multilateral engagements. Examples include:
- 2022 UNHCR EXCOM Conclusion on Mental Health: PRM led U.S. Government contributions to this statement calling for investments in, and support of, the mental health and psychosocial needs of refugees, migrants, and stateless individuals. UNHCR Executive Committee Conclusion on Mental Health
- 2023 Rabat Declaration: PRM participated in the Third Global Consultation on the Health of Refugees and Migrants and the adoption of the Rabat Declaration, which reaffirmed the rights of all people, including refugees, migrants, and stateless people, to access the highest attainable level of physical and mental health.
Diplomacy: USG and PRM humanitarian diplomacy includes advocacy for the inclusion of refugees, forcibly displaced persons, and stateless persons in national health systems, including mental health systems as well as for the importance of mental health for conflict-affected and stateless persons in bilateral and multilateral humanitarian fora
- IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings, 2007 | IASC (interagencystandingcommittee.org)
- IASC Handbook, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Coordination | IASC (interagencystandingcommittee.org)
- UNHCR MHPSS Annex of Global Public Health Strategy 2021-2025
- UNICEF MHPSS in Emergencies
- Support & Innovation: Improving Mental Health for Humanitarian Workers – Inspired | Inspired (icrc.org)
- Staff Well-being and Mental Health in UNHCR Survey Report 2016