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Capacity Building for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Humanitarian Emergencies: The Challenges of Training

Author(s): C. Colliard1
Affiliation(s): 1Development & Training Department, Centre for Humanitarian Psychology, Geneva, Switzerland
Keywords: Mental health, psychosocial support, humanitarian emergencies, training, psycho-education, capacity building, evaluation, research.

With the growing concern around the impact of climate changes and the potential development of more violence and conflicts to come, and consequently more mass victimization, there will be a growing need for quality training. In recent years, the Sphere Project and the IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergencies have issued principles and good practices(also in the areas of capacity building and training),which have contributed to awareness, better implementation of programs and the growth of a distinct body of knowledge in these fields. However, after evaluating programs on post-disaster scenes (Iran, Sri Lanka, Pakistan&,the speaker has observed a huge gap in the recruitment and training of qualified international and national/local staff after disasters, in both areas of mental health and psychosocial support.


There are many factors involved: countries affected by disasters and conflicts do not always have policies in place in those areas prior to the disaster; training programs have to be created from scratch on an ad hoc basis; local staff are victims themselves and have to be trained into self care alongside attending victims; training in community psycho-education is usually done also on an ad-hoc basis; evaluations and monitoring of training programs are practically non existent. In general, training methodologies in the context of emergencies, both mental health and psychosocial support and education, have been poorly researched and lack scientific validation.
Overall, such programs in post-emergency areas remain quite inconsistent and sketchy, as each humanitarian organisation gives their own training in line with their own objectives. Finally, evaluation and research on mental health and psychosocial training and capacity building in emergencies are still quite thin and lack scientific evidence.


The speaker suggests that trainings should not be a series of one-off and ad-hoc events, but built into a coherent whole, spanning both mental health and psychosocial education practices as complementary fields. This means pre-deployment contingency planning by the international community and governments. Effective training programs would then not only bring more professionalism to national/local staff in emergencies, but also change the communities’ attitudes toward mental illness by extending psycho-education practices that could avoid stigmatisation. Such training programs would also gain strength if there was a coordinating mechanism in the impacted areas, thus avoiding duplication. Furthermore, training programs should be planned in the perspective of sustainable development, by mobilising the communities’ resources, such as primary health care centres, schools, local authorities and integrated into the local culture and community traditions. Evaluation and monitoring tools for mental health and psychosocial education programs in non-western countries should be created and validated. Finally, research into training methodologies and practices in post-emergency contexts should be created in order to build evidence based practices, thus strengthening local professionalism.

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