The World Humanitarian Summit Needs Mental Health & Psychosocial Support

This entry is a repost from the Medium website. To read the original entry, please visit: The World Humanitarian Summit needs mental health and psychosocial support.

I am currently attending the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) being held in Istanbul (23–24 May 2016) to advocate for an issue that is missing from the WHS agenda — the provision of Mental Health & Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) to persons affected by crisis events.

​MHPSS is Missing from the WHS Agenda

It is very regrettable that the programme at the World Humanitarian Summit does not highlight the mental health and psychosocial support needs of people affected crisis around the world, despite several submissions on this during the consultation phase leading to the Summit. MHPSS is not on the agenda at the High-Level Leaders’ Round Tables or at the Special Sessions that form the core of the Summit. MHPSS is also not featured at any of the 100+ approved Side-Events. There are a handful of MHPSS specialists attending the summit, but they do not have a formal platform to raise issues of concern regarding humanitarian reforms and developments needed to better address the MHPSS needs of affected populations.

MHPSS in the WHS Conversations

However, despite the lack of a formal platform for this cross-cutting field of humanitarian action, MHPSS issues keep being raised in the course of the diverse conversations at the WHS. From the sessions on the role of faith communities, the value of education in emergencies, addressing consequences of gender-based violence, meeting the needs in the Syrian crisis, priority global health concerns and inclusion of persons with disabilities, many WHS delegates have been highlighting the relevance of supports to psychosocial wellbeing and mental health to their respective areas of concern.

The Need for a Broad MHPSS Field for Humanitarian Response

Ironically, the broad relevance and cross-cutting nature of MHPSS may well be one reason that it is not formally acknowledged as a priority field at the WHS. Even as MHPSS concerns are increasingly adopted by other well established fields within the humanitarian system, the fact that the area of MHPSS does not have its own dedicated structures within the humanitarian architecture (apart from a IASC Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings) means that it lacks the leverage to garner the attention and resources that it deserves. It also means that issues of psychosocial support and mental health are constantly at risk of being relegated to silos defined by the larger fields that have integrated particular psychosocial activities.
This is worrying, given that the actual on-the-ground service-delivery systems and approaches for MHPSS services to protect, promote and restore the wellbeing of affected people will often be shared, whether the humanitarian responses are focussing on family violence, SGBV, trafficking and exploitation, infectious disease pandemics, mental illness and psychosocial disabilities, reconciliation, transitional justice or staff care. This is especially true for efforts to address determinants and mediators of vulnerability and resilience.

Fragmentation of MHPSS issues also risks producing overly narrow, idiosyncratic, pathway-dependent trajectories for development of MHPSS approaches within fields like child protection, GBV, peacebuilding, education or health — without the exchange and cross-fertilization required in a field that is still rapidly evolving. It also potentially undoes progress made in 2007, when the IASC published Guidelines for MHPSS in Emergency Settings that showed the way to integration both vertically across different levels of specialization of response as well as horizontally across a range of problems or areas of intervention.

The Post WHS Agenda Must Include MHPSS

The cross-cutting field of MHPSS has a key role to play in relation to supporting vulnerable people affected by crisis. It is directly relevant to four out of the five core commitments identified for the WHS in the UN Secretary General’s report One Humanity: Shared Responsibility, as well as to other key WHS themes such as ‘People at the Centre’ or ‘Leave No One Behind’. The fact that MHPSS issues are being raised time and again within the conversations taking place at WHS sessions underscores this powerfully. Despite MHPSS being overlooked in the WHS programme, it is vital that the agenda for the Post WHS Agenda engage with the MHPSS field in recognition of what it can offer to forging future humanitarian approaches and vision.

Ananda Galappatti is a medical anthropologist based in Sri Lanka. He is the Director of Strategy at The Good Practice Group, a Managing Board Member of and also a member of the editorial board of the journal Intervention. He is attending the World Humanitarian Summit on behalf of IASC Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings. Contact Ananda via @agalappatti

Human rights
All disorders
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Interesting and important comments. Thanks, Ananda.
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