How do we fund MHPSS in crisis situations?

Making mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) an integral part of humanitarian response saves money. It also results in a better outcome for those affected. Together with partners, the Netherlands advocates reprioritising and redistributing general humanitarian spending, with more of it going to MHPSS.

How is emergency response spending currently distributed?

Less than 1% of the emergency response budget is currently spent on mental and psychosocial wellbeing, even though over 20% of all reported health problems concern mental and psychosocial wellbeing. Accordingly, the Netherlands is now asking aid organisations to place greater focus on MHPSS than is now the case.

The Netherlands and other donors fund leading humanitarian organisations such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), UNHCR and UNICEF. These organisations can themselves decide how most of this funding is spent. After all, emergency aid cannot be planned. Disasters strike unexpectedly, and no one knows in advance what will be needed if they occur.

Although the Netherlands and other donors cannot determine in advance where exactly all the money they donate is spent, they can set certain conditions. For example, within the donor group chaired by the Netherlands together with the UK.

Why do we need to distribute emergency response money in a different way?

It pays to allocate more money to better MHPSS in emergency situations. Doing so ensures that money allocated to other components of emergency aid, such as construction materials or agricultural tools, is better spent. This is because those affected will only be able to make proper use of these resources if they are in the right frame of mind to do so. Combining practical assistance with MHPSS is the best way to help them.

Poverty is a driver of stress and increases the risk of mental disorders. These in turn hamper people in their day-to-day functioning, which then exacerbates poverty, causing a downward spiral. Effective MHPSS can get people out of this spiral so that they are able to rebuild their lives.

Investing in MHPSS also brings economic returns. The World Bank estimates that for every dollar invested in treating mental conditions, there is a return of between USD 3.3 and USD 5.7 dollars in economic and social benefits.

Which conditions should be set when assigning emergency response money?

It is important that emergency aid organisations:

  • integrate MHPSS into their aid package wherever needed;
  • carefully coordinate the mental healthcare (MH) and psychosocial support (PSS) they offer;
  • use proven methods, but remain open to new approaches that respect local needs and customs;
  • cooperate effectively in all areas, including MHPSS.

Money must not be spent only on research; it should also support real-life aid programmes. And it is paramount that governments and the organisations working in affected areas continue to make their own investments.

β€˜It’s about doing things differently, rather than doing different things.’

Sarah Harrison, IFRC, co-chair, IASC Reference Group on MHPSS