What is mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS)?

More people than ever are being forced to leave their homes due to armed conflict, other violence and natural disasters. The impact this has on their mental health is often invisible, yet mental wellbeing is crucial for rebuilding both human lives and affected areas. 

Humanitarian organisations do everything they can in crisis situations, providing emergency aid in the form of food, water and shelter. But more is needed. Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) is just as important because it restores people’s ability to take care of themselves and others. MHPSS should therefore be part of the basic assistance provided in crisis situations. The Netherlands is committed to making MHPSS an integral part of the humanitarian response in crisis situations.

Increased need for MHPSS in crisis situations

People affected by humanitarian crises – such as armed conflicts, violence, terrorism, poverty, natural disasters, religious persecution or political oppression – are at increased risk of developing mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS). Mental illness affects 2 out of 10 people in crisis situations, compared to 1 out of 10 in non-crisis situations.

Mental illness also persists much longer in people in crisis situations. And children and young people are much more likely to be affected. Crises can cause symptoms to return or get worse in people with a history of mental illness.

Less access to MHPSS in crisis situations

Crisis situations can force people to leave their homes, while others may be killed or go missing. Often, people lose their socioeconomic security, trusted contacts and relationships. Hospitals and other local care institutions may be destroyed or unreachable. The essential things people need to maintain their mental health and tackle difficulties are lost.

Humanitarian disasters occur more often in countries that already have weak health systems, where one disaster may quickly follow another.

Forms of mental health services and psychosocial support

Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) can take many forms, depending on what someone needs in a given situation and what is available. This support can be available from their community or from external parties. In some cases people need professional caregivers and specialist treatment. But MHPSS can also be provided by aid workers, volunteers or fellow sufferers, with or without special training.

Find out what the Netherlands has done to improve MHPSS in crisis situations on the Development Cooperation Portal, or view the presentation ‘MHPSS: from local to global emergencies’.