November 29, 2007
New guidelines to address mental health needs in emergencies
New guidelines stressing the need for a rapid and coordinated response to psychological and social needs during emergencies were launched at the United Nations today. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings cover every aspect of psychological and social well-being in emergencies, including the impact of health, education, protection and social services.
“Only when governments are dedicated to developing and implementing the guidelines in partnership with all sectors of society will we secure the rights of all, including children,” said Hilde F. Johnson, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director.
Emergency situations not only undermine normal life, they also exacerbate existing problems such as poverty, existing mental illness and discrimination. Those who are already vulnerable, such as children, women, the elderly, the poor, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) face even greater stress and pressure during emergencies.
When communities provide protection and support during emergencies, most people have been shown to be remarkably resilient. The new guidelines stress the need to treat survivors with respect and dignity as well as include them in the emergency response. They also highlight the importance of building on existing ways in which community members deal with difficulties.
“These inter-sectoral guidelines are critical for protecting and promoting psychosocial and mental well-being in emergency situations,” said Ms. Johnson. “However they must be matched by commitment to protecting populations from harm, effective law enforcement and supportive basic services, allocation of adequate resources and the engagement of all levels of society,” she added.
The guidelines set out three key stages:
* Emergency preparedness before the emergency occurs;
* The minimum response required during the most acute phase of the emergency and;
* The comprehensive response required, typically during the stabilized and early reconstruction phase of the emergency.
The guidelines require partners and governments to prepare, coordinate and collaborate not only during an emergency, but also before an emergency occurs.
These guidelines are designed for use by all humanitarian actors, including community-based organizations, government authorities, UN organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and donors operating in emergencies at local, national and international levels.