Development minister Sigrid Kaag calls for emergency response team for psychosocial support in crisis areas

People exposed to a conflict or disaster should be able to get psychosocial support as quickly as possible, foreign trade and development cooperation minister Sigrid Kaag believes. She therefore proposes setting up an international pool of mental health experts. At the request of the United Nations, the International Red Cross and other aid organisations, teams could be despatched to crisis regions at short notice in order to assess how much and what type of help is needed.

The Netherlands will work closely on this with various international organisations, including the World Health Organization. ‘Psychosocial support is just as important during crises as food, water, shelter and safety,’ says Ms Kaag. ‘It’s not an optional extra. This needs to become a standard component of humanitarian aid.’

To achieve this the minister is organising an international conference on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Crisis Situations in Amsterdam in October. It will bring together mental health experts as well as the people responsible for policy, planning and financing.

Because of their traumatic experiences, many survivors of disasters and conflicts develop mental health problems like depression or anxiety disorders. The problems often continue for a long time and interfere with people’s day-to-day functioning. In conflict areas people with mental illness take longer to recover, on average, because they often lack support and their daily lives remain a source of stress.

‘Psychosocial support and help in dealing with traumatic experiences enhance the effectiveness of other forms of emergency assistance. And this helps people pick up their lives again, and make a start with local reconstruction,’ the minister explained.

When more aid workers are trained to provide basic psychosocial care, they can also refer people with serious psychological conditions to specialist care. The minister is discussing this with aid organisations. ‘Imagine if all the International Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers received standard training in psychosocial care. There would be millions of people worldwide capable of identifying and helping people with mental health problems.’