Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Humanitarian Action

The experience of an emergency can significantly impact the psychological and social wellbeing and development of a child. Exposure to violence or disaster, loss of or separation from family members and friends, deterioration in living conditions, inability to provide for one's self and family, and lack of access to services can all have immediate and long-term consequences for children, families and communities and their ability to function. With the right kind of support, the majority of children and community members will be able to overcome the difficult experiences.

UNICEF acknowledges that psychosocial distress experienced by people at the onset of any emergency or in the context of abuse and violence is a real issue that requires professional care and support. Hence, for UNICEF, mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) is a core area of response, especially in emergencies; UNICEF often provides leadership in coordination on this issue along with other UN and international organizations.

UNICEF fully endorses and adheres to the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support. UNICEF also seeks to respond to emergencies in an integrated manner, drawing special linkages between Child Friendly Spaces and other community based protection mechanisms and promotes a layered response on psychosocial support (PSS) in line with the MHPSS Guidelines. PSS is also an issue that cuts across key sectors such as education, health, nutrition and WASH.

The IASC Guidelines on MHPSS proposes a layered response with adequate focus on provision of basic services, establishing or re-establishing social and community networks and support systems, providing focussed but non-specialized services to especially vulnerable children, women and men and providing specialized care to a significantly smaller percentage of the population.

Globally, UNICEF uses four main strategies to protect and promote children's psychological and social well-being in emergencies:
1. Supporting psychosocial activities for children. This includes providing children with culturally and age appropriate, safe and stimulating non-formal activities such as sports and activities, play and games, and activities that develop children's life skills and coping mechanisms.
2. Supporting parents and other community members to better support children. This involves providing key messages about care of children, and engaging parents and community members (such as religious actors, youth or women's networks) in dialogue about how they can better support their children.
3. Ensuring children and families with more severe psychological or social problems have access to professional help. Some children and families experience problems that cannot be managed only by their existing social support network. Problems can include moderate behavioral problems in children, family disputes and/or violence, parental depression, anxiety or drug or alcohol abuse, and severe mental disorders such as Post-Traumatic Stress disorder or schizophrenia. UNICEF generally refers these cases to services supported by organizations specialized in such issues.
4. Coordination of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS). UNICEF works with partners working in different sectors, such as health, education, protection, camp management to ensure that MHPSS programmes are coordinated.


Guidelines and Tools

Growing up in Conflict: The Impact on Children’s Mental Health and Psychosocial Well-Being, Report of the Global Symposium, UNICEF, 2015
Humanitarian Intervention Guide (mhGAP-HIG): Clinical Management of Mental, Neurological and Substance Use Conditions in Humanitarian Emergencies, WHO/UNHCR, 2015
Review of the Implementation of the IASC Guidelines on MHPSS, IASC, 2014
Interagency Training and Resource Package on Child Friendly Spaces, IASC, 2014
Community Based Psychosocial Support – A Response Strategy (Draft), UNICEF, 2014
Psychological First Aid Training Manual for Child Practitioners , Save the Children, 2013
The Crossroads of Child Protection and Education in Peacebuilding, UNICEF, 2013
Who is Where, When, Doing What (4Ws) in Mental Health and Psychosocial Support, IASC, 2012
Assessing Mental Health and Psychosocial Needs and Resources: Toolkit for Humanitarian Settings , WHO/UNHCR, 2012
Building Back Better: Sustainable Mental Health Care After Emergencies, WHO, 2012
Guidelines for Child Friendly Spaces in Emergencies, Field Testing version, UNICEF, 2011
Inter-Agency Guide to the Evaluation of Psychosocial Programming in Humanitarian Crises, Inter-Agency, 2011
Psychological First Aid: Guide for Field Workers, WHO, 2011
Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Humanitarian Emergencies: What should Protection Programme Managers Know?, IASC, 2010
Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Humanitarian Emergencies: What Should Humanitarian Health Actors Know?, IASC, 2010
Guide to the Evaluation of Psychosocial Programming in Emergencies, UNICEF, 2009
A Practical Guide to Developing Child Friendly Spaces, UNICEF, 2009
Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings, IASC, 2008
Mental Health and Psychological Support: Checklist for Field Use, IASC, 2008
Advocacy Package: IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings, IASC, 2008

Additional Resources

External Resources