1. Assessing MHPSS needs and resources
IMC implemented a rapid MHPSS assessment in October 2017 to understand the needs of communities affected by Hurricane Maria, identify existing services and resources, and generate recommendations to inform program design. The assessment tools used were adapted from the UNHCR/WHO MHPSS Assessment Toolkit2 which included a review of available MHPSS services (the ‘4Ws’ mapping exercise), community needs and current sources of distress. The assessment concluded with seven recommendations for actions to be jointly undertaken by MHPSS actors to improve the response (available in resources).
2. Coordination of MHPSS response activities
Informed by key recommendations for action from the assessment stage, in October 2017 IMC established a Working Group to improve the coordination of MHPSS and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) activities. The group consisted of 29 organizations, including government bodies, local and international NGOs, faith-based organizations, private MHPSS providers and UN agencies. These coordination meetings were held bi-weekly, were chaired by IMC and discussions were based on the following objectives (full list available in resources):
- Ensure an effective, coordinated and focused inter-agency response to the MHPSS/GBV needs of the Dominican population affected by Hurricane Maria
- Identify gaps in MHPSS/GBV response and facilitate coordinated action
- Promote the leadership of the government, and encourage the representation of diverse MHPSS and GBV stakeholders
3. Improving local capacity to respond to MHPSS needs
IMC implemented participatory one-day workshops with over 200 community leaders (e.g. village council members, health workers, teachers, fire officers, local NGO staff etc) in order to improve the local capacity of providers to address the MHPSS needs of disaster-affected populations. These community leaders were invited to participate in the workshop via text messages. The workshops were based on Psychological First Aid (PFA), an approach that seeks to provide practical and emotional support to people who have recently experienced a distressing event and were administered by a program manager and clinical psychologist. In order to plan for a sustainable mechanism for continued activities, a PFA Training-of-Trainers was implemented and focused on: 1) Revision of training slides and activities, 2) Facilitation Tips, 3 Introduction to MHPSS Best Practice Guidelines, and 4) Orientation to training ‘Starter Packs’.
4. Increasing awareness and use of MHPSS best practice guidelines and psychosocial support services
IMC’s assessment stage highlighted a rich network of local agencies involved in MHPSS activities; however, their potential impact was limited by the lack of a formal coordination mechanisms and limited awareness of relevant international best practice guidelines. IMC conducted two full-day orientation workshops to address these needs as well as distribute copies of the IASC Best Practice Guidelines for MHPSS in Emergency Settings3 to relevant agencies. Promotional activities to increase the awareness of available psychosocial support services for community members were also implemented. Posters of helpline numbers was designed and displayed in health facilities, village councils, churches and other public areas with potential of high visibility.