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Improving mental health care in humanitarian crises

Time (GMT +01) 13:00 14:30
Hero image description: Members of the local community of King Robert Farm, a suburb of Monrovia in Liberia, are listening to a team of psychosocial workers of Action Contre la Faim (ACF) during an emotional debrief. Image credit:UNMEER/Martine Perret Image license:CC

Contributing chair:

Wendy Fenton @WendyFenton1 - Coordinator, Humanitarian Practice Network, ODI


Nour Kik - Policy and Advocacy Coordinator in the National Mental Health Programme, Ministry of Public Health in Lebanon

Natalya Kostandova - Program Coordinator, International Medical Corps (IMC)

Dr Alison Schafer - Technical Officer in the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, World Health Organisation

Dr Wietse Tol @wietsetolAssociate Professor in the Department of Mental Health at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health 


Humanitarian agencies are increasingly prioritising the provision of evidence-based mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) for people affected by crises. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the prevalence of mild and moderate mental disorders can increase from a baseline of 10% to an estimated 15–20% in a humanitarian crisis. The prevalence of severe mental disorders can increase from 2–3% to 3–4%.

At the same time, unrest and conflict exacerbate the challenges in delivering high-quality mental health services. In the Central African Republic, instability and the presence of armed groups have forced people in need of MHPSS to travel further to receive care. Many are simply unable to obtain the support they need. In Iraq, where an estimated 20% of the population will suffer mental health problems at some point in their life, only 6% are able to access treatment.

What progress has been made in strengthening the evidence base on effective mental health and psychosocial support approaches in humanitarian contexts and translating this into good practice? What are the barriers to implementing MHPSS interventions for people affected by humanitarian crises? Drawing on articles in the latest issue of Humanitarian Exchange magazine and their own research and experience, panellists discuss the opportunities and challenges in providing mental health and psychosocial support in emergencies, and offer insights for academics and operational actors working together to strengthen the evidence base on which good practice depends.


Wendy Fenton is the Humanitarian Practice Network Coordinator at ODI. She has over 25 years of operational, management and advisory experience in humanitarian and development programming across a wide range of sectors primarily in Sudan and Ethiopia. She has extensive experience of working with both donors (USAID/OFDA and CIDA) and NGOs (Save the Children UK). Most recently, as an independent consultant, she has focused on fragile states, specifically issues related to NGO programming, funding mechanism performance and safety nets.

Nour Kik is a public health professional and currently the Policy and Advocacy Coordinator at the National Mental Health Programme, Ministry of Public Health in Lebanon. She is leading the coordination of the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Task Force which aims at ensuring an effective, coordinated and focused inter-agency response to the MHPSS needs of persons living in Lebanon, with a special focus on persons affected by the Syrian crisis. She also coordinates the development process of mental health related strategies and plans and efforts to mainstream mental health policy in other sectors.

Natalya Kostandova is a Program Coordinator with International Medical Corps (IMC) in Central African Republic (CAR). Natalya has over 5 years of experience working on health programmes in Burkino Faso, Tanzania, Chad and CAR. International Medical Corps has been implementing mental health and psychosocial support programs in CAR since 2015. The IMC program in CAR focuses on working with health care providers and provision of emergency relief and protection services.

Dr Alison Schafer is trained in clinical psychology and completed her PhD research dissertation in South Sudan, exploring various elements of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS). Currently, she’s a technical officer in the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organisation. For the previous 8 years, Alison was the Global MHPSS Technical Advisor for World Vision International and World Vision Australia. In her roles as MHPSS technical advisor, Alison’s experience has seen her respond to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, the protracted Syria conflict and in the occupied Palestinian territories of West Bank and Gaza.

Dr Tol is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mental Health at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Director of the Peter C. Alderman Program for Global Mental Health at HealthRight International. Dr Tol’s research and practice focus on mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian crises. He is particularly interested in (integrated) programs that address the social determinants of mental health with people who experience adversity.

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