What does MHPSS entail in crisis situations?

In crisis situations, people sometimes need talk therapies or medication provided by psychiatrists, psychologists, specialised nurses, general practitioners or other professionals. This applies especially to serious mental health conditions.

Enlarge image
Image: ©Olav A. Saltbones / Norwegian Red Cross
Volunteer playing with Joe, orphaned after the Haiti earthquake.

MHPSS ‘task shifting’

Some of these activities that are usually provided by specialists can also be provided by others, such as community workers, non-specialised aid workers, or other survivors who are properly trained and supported. This is called ‘task sharing’ or ‘task shifting.’ Although sometimes a response to a shortage of professionals, such approaches can be useful in other situations as well.

MHPSS activities

Psychosocial support, however, can be much more than ‘therapy’ and include a variety of activities. Examples are: support groups and self-help groups for women, or youth, or people with disabilities; structured play activities for children; mind-body approaches such as relaxation and breathing exercises; storytelling; music making; sports; and handicraft or vocational courses. Such activities need not be led by mental health professionals.

Environment and wellbeing

Genuine personal relationships and listening ears are ultimately crucial for psychosocial wellbeing. This is why untrained but caring and considerate family members, friends and neighbours, peers and teachers can make a big positive difference. Providing basic facilities is another significant form of support: installing lighting fixtures in sanitation blocks in refugee camps, for example, will make women and girls feel safer at night. On a more general level, reliable, valid and understandable information by itself reduces uncertainty and stress.

Need for MHPSS integration

In fact, MHPSS relates to all aspects of humanitarian response, and meeting the needs of affected populations requires a variety of approaches and actions. This is another reason why an integrated approach is important.