Innovation summary

Many actors are trying to meet the mental and psychosocial needs of refugees, internally displaced people (IDP), and host communities in the Middle East. Despite the large scale of the crises and limited local capacities, MHPSS-actors exert a tremendous effort to make their services accessible to the most vulnerable. 

Against a backdrop of protracted crises, the project aims at improving MHPSS services by enabling exchange among MHPSS-experts working in the Middle East and elsewhere, by strengthening the capacities of staff in other sectors of development cooperation through building a consideration of MHPSS into their programming. Additionally, MHPSS actors are provided with good practices and guidelines for offering services to the most vulnerable populations, such as formerly IS-affiliated children, survivors of SGBV, people at risk of suicide, and persons with disabilities. Lastly, the project promotes and implements staff care for staff in local MHPSS-organizations.

Impact summary

  • More than 1,000 individuals working for more than 110 organizations participated in 40 expert exchanges organized by the project.
  • In cooperation with other organizations working in the Middle East, the regional project published several papers which offer guidance and recommendations for MHPSS in development cooperation. The papers have been validated by more than 100 participants from Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.
  • In cooperation with, an online mapping tool for MHPSS-actors has been developed to coordinate the services offered. It has been used for the 2018 4W-mapping exercise in Jordan.  

The Cash for Work projects offer short-term employment opportunities to refugees and underprivileged Jordanians, which poses challenges on various levels; experience of poverty and insecurity can cause stress, anxiety and aggression. […] The regional project provided us with their expertise and advice to develop adequate psychosocial support structures within the short-term employment context."

- Maram Shaban, CfW project “Improvement of Green Infrastructure”,  Jordan

Innovation details

The project aims to improve MHPSS services for refugees, IDPs and host community members in the Middle East. As per its mandate:

  1. The project brings together a network of German, local and international experts working in the context of the Syrian and Iraqi crises.
  2. To facilitate exchange and share lessons learned, it organizes conferences on a local, regional and international level, and supports other networks (such as the online platform through which the responses of MHPSS-practitioners and researchers can be coordinated.
  3. Besides these activities, the project improves support structures for staff working with highly distressed populations to mitigate the risk of burnout or secondary traumatization.
    a) On this topic, the regional project is in close exchange with other organizations, e.g. the Inter-Agency Standing Committee.
  4. Additionally, the project helps to integrate MHPSS approaches in other sectors by offering training and consultation for development and international cooperation actors.
  5. Finally, our project offers trainings in regionally adapted standards for MHPSS activities, and the specific needs of most vulnerable populations, such as female survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, people at risk of suicide, and former IS-affiliated states (Islamic State-affiliated) children.

Key drivers

Local actors (mainly NGOs): since local actors have the strongest connection to their respective communities and are the most aware of their beneficiaries’ needs and traditions, their experience is a crucial factor in evaluating the extent to which Western MHPSS-approaches and concepts can be adapted to fit the Middle Eastern context. Therefore, local actors have always been involved in the process of reviewing recommendation papers and have been strongly represented in the exchange meetings that the project has organized.

International actors (INGOs, also researchers): international actors tend to have a vast experience of working on MHPSS in various challenging settings, and their knowledge from different regions is extremely helpful in coping with the lack of well-trained psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers in the Middle East. They are important bearers of knowledge and their experience is crucial for improving services, developing common principles, and training staff.

Networks: regional and international networks and working groups such as the technical working groups on MHPSS, the online network and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Reference Group on MHPSS are very important for facilitating exchange amongst different actors and for sharing lessons learned in the region. Therefore, the project supports these networks as spaces for reflection and mutual learning.


Variety of actors and sectors: while a diversity of actors and coordinators can benefit a joint learning process, it may be difficult to develop a common understanding of terminology and approaches to MHPSS. High staff fluctuation and responsibilities being scattered across organizations and ministries can present an additional challenge.

Limited number of trained staff: there are not enough well-trained experts such as psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, social workers, etc. to offer services to everyone affected by war and displacement in Syria, Iraq, and the neighbouring countries. Therefore, there is a need to provide capacity development based on internationally agreed MHPSS-principles and on the job training to local staff.

Stigma: having psychosocial needs or mental disorders is strongly associated with stigma in the Middle East. Although MHPSS practitioners work to reduce stigma by raising awareness and offering psychoeducational activities, social and religious taboos continue to pose great obstacles to seeking help. 


The consultation processes and knowledge management which the project enables is also useful for other regions. Even though contextualized approaches are needed, actors in other settings can learn from the experiences of the Middle East (and vice versa). The online mapping tool developed at is offered as a freeware, and it has already been used in other countries (Libya, Ukraine and Bangladesh) to coordinate MHPSS-responses. Various knowledge management platforms and networks (e.g., or the IASC Reference Group on MHPSS) ensure that the lessons learnt, and tools developed by the project and its partners are accessible to actors working in other contexts.

The project is advocating for the incorporation of MHPSS-approaches into other sectors by developing a chapter of the guiding framework on MHPSS for development cooperation which proposes overlaps between MHPSS and other sectors, such as education. In collaboration with Cash for Work, it has also published a booklet on dealing with psychosocial challenges in Cash for Work (CfW).

The project has developed a training concept to help the staff who work with people and are affected by ongoing stress to reflect on their experiences, and learn how to consider the specific psychosocial needs of their target population and ensure that their programs address them. 

Evaluation methods

The project and its work are closely monitored internally, and reports to its donor on an annual basis.

Cost of implementation

For the period 09/2015-10/2022, the project has an overall budget of about 11 million USD.

Impact details

  • One of the project’s main impacts has been to forge connections between regional and international experts and practitioners who offer MHPSS to refugees and IDP.
  • These exchanges enable communal learning to take place: local actors can join the discussion on the principles underpinning high-quality services, and actual needs on the ground can be communicated to decision- and policy makers.
  • Since 2016, more than 1,000 actors working for more than 110 different organizations and projects have participated in 40 expert exchanges organized by the project, during which sensitive topics like suicide prevention and the psychosocial needs of former child combatants were discussed.
  • The guiding frameworks and recommendation papers developed by the project (e.g. on Capacity Development & Trainings in MHPSS, on PSS for SGBV Survivors, and MHPSS in Development Cooperation) have been widely disseminated and are used by both regional organizations and European policy makers.
  • The introductory course on MHPSS that the project developed has become part of the catalogue offered by the Academy for International Cooperation, and has also been booked and conducted by several projects (not only in the Middle East) to sensitize their staff for the topic of MHPSS.
  • The knowledge management networks set up and/or facilitated by the project have enabled hundreds of MHPSS-practitioners around the globe to exchange on challenges and lessons learned and, by doing so, to improve their work.
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Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Germany, Turkey

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