Why is MHPSS in crisis situations an issue?

Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) includes any support that people receive to protect or promote their mental health and psychosocial wellbeing.

Mother and child waiting for help in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In humanitarian crises – such as armed conflicts, violence, terrorism, poverty, natural disasters, religious persecution or political oppression – mental health and psychosocial wellbeing are often threatened from two sides.

  1. Crisis situations not only cause physical injury and material loss; they also give rise to uncertainty and involve experiences that can cause much emotional and mental suffering. Survivors run an increased risk of developing such mental health conditions as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If they already had such a condition before, it may resurface or get worse.
  2. Crisis situations often damage or destroy the resources people need to support their mental health and jointly cope with hardship: everyday contacts and trusted community, and hospitals and other institutions that provide treatment and care.

Impact of mental and psychosocial issues

More and more humanitarian crises are occurring – one after another – in countries with poorly developed health systems and few MHPSS resources. Mental disorders are twice as frequent here as elsewhere (with over 20% of people affected, compared with 10% in non-crisis situations), and last much longer. Rates are far higher among children and adolescents. As a result, people have greater difficulties taking care of themselves and their families and rebuilding their lives.

Relieving individual mental and emotional suffering is important in any circumstances. In humanitarian crises, where needs are greater, people often have even less access to MHPSS.

Refugee family in Iraq.