The stress and trauma lived during humanitarian emergencies can lead to mental distress and in some people, provoke mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and even psychosis. Persons with disabilities may be at increased risk of developing such conditions due to systemic exclusion pre-and post-emergencies. This can result in some negative coping mechanisms, such as abuse of alcohol or drugs. Additionally, humanitarian emergencies often further exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities, because of the distress of the event and breakdown of support mechanisms. Be mindful and aware of cultural and contextual beliefs surrounding mental health and disability, learn about and, as soon as possible, collaborate with local, indigenous and traditional health systems, as well as organisations of persons with disabilities.
It is important to include people with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities in all stages of emergency response, few actions can help to do so:
- Liaise with other organisations and establish what is the referral procedure and what services are available for people with mental health conditions and/or psychosocial disabilities to ensure inclusivity, collaboration and effectiveness of response.
- Establish as soon as possible a list of all health facilities and care institutions in the area, as well as traditional/informal places where people with mental health conditions are usually treated or reside, to ensure no one has been left behind or is unable to leave.
- Facilitate community-based care and appropriate alternative living arrangements, with families where appropriate.
- When providing psychological and social support, remember that sometimes people just want to discuss their experiences and be listened to. This is equally relevant for persons with disabilities, so ensure your team has tools to properly communicate with persons with different communication needs.
- Make sure to adapt and make all supports including communications and facilities accessible to persons with all disabilities paying particular attention to women and girls.
- Facilitate conditions for appropriate communal cultural, spiritual and religious healing practices, while ensuring that those do not harm or discriminate against persons with disabilities.
- Facilitate and promote community self-help and support, ensuring there are safe and accessible spaces available for this.
World Health Organization. Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergencies.
MHPSS.net. Emergency Toolkit.
ASC. Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Humanitarian Emergencies: What Should Humanitarian Health Actors Know? Geneva 2010.
IASC. Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial support in Emergency settings. Geneva. 2007.